I often consider calm summer afternoons at the track to be the best time to consider things. By that time on the best days, I’m done thrashing on my kart, and I can take some time to reminisce. In those times of reflection, I consider where I’m at, and how I got there. Lately, I’ve thumbed through old magazine articles, and wiped the dust off some old trophies. This in turn allowed me to really consider my past, and how it has shaped who I am today.
When I started racing go karts in the spring of 1994, a dream was conceived to one day become a racecar driver. My mom and dad had dreams to make that happen. I believe the person I am today is largely based on the life I experienced as I chased that dream. Taking the time to enjoy being at the track with good people has helped me keep my perspective on things, which, over time, has helped me realized that while reflection may not necessarily change anything along my journey in my past, it sure does make me wish I could do it all again!
Often times when people tell their story, I hear something along the lines of “I knew I wanted to be a racecar driver from the time I could walk,” or some such thing. I believe that a dream or goal never begins with a conscious thought like that, but as a simple impulse. At first, you are the only one that can see it. For me, wanting to be a racecar driver probably started in 1994. Over time, the dream and passion for what I wanted to do grew exponentially over time. While it is true that I still don’t know what I plan to be when I grow up, I do know that when I got my first go kart in ’94 I wasn’t capable of thinking about anything other than racing. At the time, I had no visions of winning at The Brickyard. Instead, I was thinking about what it would be like to win my first kart race!
I have always been grateful to my parents. Now that I am racing again, I appreciate more than ever what my mother Jeannie and my father Chuck as well as many others have done for me along my way. I hope that my parents know they did a hell of a job being mom and dad, mentors, and pit crew all at the same time.
A Hard Beginning
When I think back as far as I can remember, the first thing that comes to mind is how hard my parents worked; From body shops, to trailer manufacturing, used hand tool sales, and even auto appraisals, they owned a variety of businesses, which were all eventually successful. Still, even as a child I remember sensing that our family was having some really tough times initially. For a short period, we stayed in crappy motels, and I imagine these were some of the most stressful times for my parents. Fortunately, we never faced a situation where I truly wanted for anything important, fortunate to have parents that cared deeply for me. Over time, things improved, and I am proud of them for what they have accomplished since those tough times.
From an early age I was more interested in hot rods and racecars than I was with stick and ball sports. Since my folks worked so much, I had the opportunity to hang out in the shop and exercise my interests, ‘helping’ them as best as a kid could. Or, I would work on classic peddle cars my dad gave me as projects. At the time, I thought it was great! Looking back, I am proud of that part of our life as a family.
At times, I think that my parents felt guilty due to how busy things became with work. So, when they saw me staring at a Junior Dragster on display at The Denver Stock Show, it sparked some interest for them as well. Upon hearing that they would look into getting one, I got to work immediately, coloring what I thought might be my first paint scheme. I wanted my dragster to be mostly black, with blue trim! I quickly revised that scheme to have yellow present, to match my first sponsor, Quembly’s. With those first scribbles, an impulse for racing began to form into a passion and drive that I would carry with me for years to come.
The First Kart
A few days after the stock show my dad and I set out to learn more about junior drag cars. Our first stop was Valley Kart and Engineering (VKE), where we met Mike Sandburg. Upon hearing we were interested in the drag cars, he discussed at length the options with my dad. I paid attention, but at that age could understand only so much.
Then, almost as an aside, he mentioned kart racing. He explained the value of extra seat time in a kart versus a dragster, talking as a VHS tape of a club race from the previous season played behind him. The karts were absolutely flying around the old Superior race track, something I had never seen before on TV. To Sandburg, my reaction to seeing karts in action for the first time must have been underwhelming. After all, the video was supposed to be Sandburg’s biggest selling tool! Seeing this, he pulled my dad a side. I later learned Mike asked my dad if I was really interested in racing, because I wasn’t bouncing off the walls with excitement after seeing the video. Of course, I didn’t know that then! In all honesty, I was just shy.
My dad turned to me, and told me it was up to me: would it be dragsters, or karts? I stood there pretending to ponder it for a while, acting like I was giving this decision some serious consideration. Inside my head, I replayed those magical words Mike had mentioned, almost casually: “karts….more seat time.” That was all I had needed to hear. “I think we should do go karts dad.”
I remember the excitement I felt the rest of that day, riding with my dad around Denver going from kart shop to kart shop. In total, we stopped at three shops throughout the day. A week later, we drove back to VKE, returning home triumphant with a brand-new Margay Puma with a 5- horsepower Briggs & Stratton flathead.
I remember that upon arrival home my mom was less than thrilled. In fact, she did not speak to my dad for some time after that. I later learned that just a few days earlier they had finally saved enough money for an IRS payment that was imminent. Of course, a short period of time later my mother had turned from opposition to strong support for my racing. Still, it would mark the first time our family made some irresponsible decisions to support my racing. Today, that first kart frame now hangs on the wall in our shop. It is a good reminder to keep it fun when we head to the track.
At first, I began by ‘studying’ what I thought I should know. My mother can tell you about how I would use Hot Wheels and a map to develop quicker racing lines, or how I used a Noram clutch to explain centrifugal forces for an Elementary science project. After the 5th grade, I switched to home schooling, which meant I had more time for racing, and less time for horsing around with science fair projects. Karting became my shop class, a place to learn communications skills, and math.
The next handful of months seemed to drag by agonizingly slow. March and race season couldn’t come soon enough for me! I remember all the excitement and day dreams I had about driving my Margay. I was so excited that I once wore my new HJC helmet around the house for an entire weekend, even sleeping in it, which resulted in a sprang neck that sent me home from school the following Monday. My dad promptly ruined the first set of Bridgstone YBN tires he had purchased for me, as he circled a K-Mart parking lot demonstrating to me how to drive it.
The snow eventually cleared, and with it came my first day at a real racetrack. That first warm Sunday at Bandimere was an intimidating experience, to say the least—I swerved out of the way every time drivers roared past me with their KT100’s. Seeing this, IKAC director Rob Williams suggested I try driving near the side of the track. It was, he pointed out, their job to get past me. As long as I was predictable and stayed on one side of the track, he promised I would be fine. Looking back, I think what he really wanted me to do was to just drive my racing line. Still, for several days after that, I remained glued to one side of the track all the way around each lap. Fellow racer Scott Richards eventually took pity on me, and showed me the racing line around the track on a quiet afternoon. If I could just use the whole track, he promised, no-one could beat me! Soon after, I got my first win. Scott finished 2nd in that race.
After just my first year, we decided that in 1995 I would be competing regionally. And so it was that we ventured outward. I raced with IKF, KART, and WKA the next year, on both sprint and speedway tracks. At first, our stubborn optimism was met with an equally persistent streak of poor results and unrelenting competition. I remember early in the season we ventured to Oklahoma for the Tulsa Shootout. Very quickly, we learned that there was a whole different world of competitors beyond our local karting club. With an immense amount of racers on hand in every class, we knew that we didn’t have any business being there almost immediately. Considering my experience, our equipment, and my (lack of) confidence behind the wheel it is now clear that what happened next was inevitable: I finished second to last, lapped by nearly everyone else in the field. I must have made contact with another kart nearly every lap! This was the first of many beatings our team took at first. Still, we continued to push on. From those early struggles, I learned that if you can be honest with yourself at times of struggle, it’s races like the Shootout that will make you faster.
We soon began to compete across the U.S., even venturing into parts of Canada as time went on. More than ever, hard work became the norm rather than the exception. Christmas’s were spent at the track in our motorhome (with the world’s smallest Christmas tree!). My parents organized new businesses around karting so that they could justify lengthy amounts of time on the road. I had few friends away from the racetrack, and even fewer hours to spend with them. Missed social functions, financial struggles, and worries about making last month’s house payment followed our family, which eventually led to multiple bankruptcies. And yet still, we pushed on. Others likely would call such behavior irrational, irresponsible, and frankly stupid. Nevertheless, rest assured that my parents were determined to never quit on supporting my dream, even if it meant that the struggle to support our family in other ways was a constant dilemma.
I stopped racing for a period of time after 2008, taking my last checkered flag in a Pro Truck at Colorado National Speedway. Just like when we started, the funds to continue at the time was a challenge. Until last year when I came back to karting again, I couldn’t watch, think, or even talk about racing. It was simply too painful to think about. The past year allowed me to think about the sport again, and consider why we began racing in the first place.
I believe if you were to ask my dad today what made him buy my first kart, with money that really wasn’t there to spend, he would say this: “If we didn’t just do it then, it would never have happened.” I think that same philosophy can probably explain a lot of the sacrifices my parents made to support my racing for so long. I’ve always felt I am at my best when I am at the track. Behind the wheel the rest of the world seems to go on hold. There is nothing else to do, think, or consider in the world except for driving. For my parents, it’s the same. I think this mentality makes it easier to continue to put so much effort into our racing.
I’ve realized that this sport can take a lot from you. It can also give you a tremendous amount that extends far beyond your time at the track. When I go to the track today, of course I want to win. However, I’ve realized that I’m really there for a lot of other reasons as well. I go to be with my family. I go to be with my friends. And while it is true that at times I have had to walk away from the sport for a time, I go because it’s what I want to do. At this point, it’s a large part of who I am. Sometimes, packing up the tools at the end of a long day at the track is what it takes to truly reflect, and realize that.