In Their Own Words | Rayce Dykstra

In Their Own Words | Rayce Dykstra

Long before I ever drove a kart, racing has run in our family. For almost 30 years, my grandfather built national-level formula car engines, and of course he raced as well. My dad drove at the time I was born and through my early years. Similarly my uncle and cousins have competed for some time. As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time at the track growing up. I think it is fair to say that I have always been around racing! Even my mother worked in motorsports at the professional and amateur levels of SCCA. When it comes to racing, it is what our family does.

My first chance to race came at the old Speed Raceway Indoor Karting facility. I think all that time at the track helped me, because driving started to click for me relatively quickly. I knew I wanted even more speed when I soon won an indoor karting league there. Later that winter we got my first kart, a used RBI chassis, equipped with a Rotax that I heard once belonged to Chase Elliott before we bought it.

Rayce learned at a young age to take an active role in the performance of his racing vehicle.

After many years full of racing competition within Colorado and beyond, it was clear that I wanted to move forward beyond the realm of karting Over the years, I had never wavered in my interest and determination to compete in formula cars or sports cars in the near future as a professional. We began talking to professional teams and drivers about the timing to make a transition to cars. From these discussions, it became clear that if racing professionally was your ultimate goal, then it was crucial to get started at an early age.  As soon as I turned 14, I was able to get my national car racing license. In that moment, the opportunity to switch gears was finally upon me!

Despite the similarities, transitioning from karting to sports cars was not at all easy. I struggled at first to learn how to shift—I had grown so used to a centrifugal clutch that I had no sense for the subtleties of shift timing and foot movements. In particular, learning how to shift the H-pattern on the Miata was challenging task to refine at top speed. I also found the sensation of suspension-driven chassis roll particularly daunting initially. In a kart, the chassis is the suspension, lifting and flexing in adjustment to the track surface. And of course, we can’t forget how much heavier a car is than a kart! It was initially incredible to me how much more I had to fight the car to get it to rotate into the apex of a corner with perfection.

By 2017 I was running in the spec Miata series in SCCA and NASA to get seat time and gain sports car experience. With other 70 days at the track last year, we were extremely busy! Despite the hectic nature of it, this effort paid off, with our team receiving the championship and Rookie of the Year honors in Spec Miata. From this, I received the World Speed Motorsports Rising Star Award, and was invited to the VMB driver development shootout in California, at Thunderhill Raceway.

With over 30 drivers on hand ranging in age from 14 to 23, I knew I had my work cut out for me. Ultimately, I made it to the final round of 4 drivers. Each of us was tested through 3 on-track sessions, on our data analysis aptitude and technical feedback, and by a panel of judges regarding our media and interview abilities. While intense, it was the ultimate learning experience, working with so many experienced drivers and team members in a professional environment unlike anything I had seen before.

Despite all I had learned, I was very surprised and of course thrilled when I was named the winner of the shootout and awarded a scholarship towards a season seat to race the Formula Speed 2.0 in the Formula Car Challenge series on the west coast! This series serves as a feeder into the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. When I am away from the Formula Speed car this year I will also continue to race our Spec Miata regionally, and hopefully get a chance to do at least a handful of kart races for fun as well!

In many respects, there are some karting comforts still present in my Formula Speed car. As an example, today’s formula car racing teams operate the same data systems utilized by most kart teams. By already knowing the system, I was able to immediately utilize the information delivered to me between sessions. Where it differs of course is the wider array of tools available to a driver to truly adjust. From suspension systems to aerodynamics, I am still getting used to the feel of these capable racing machines.

Dykstra impressed the judges at the VMB Driver Development Shootout last fall.

Looking back a couple years now as I face the challenges of transitioning to racing cars, I realize how fortunate I have been to work with some fantastic coaches and tuners in karting, who taught me how to look at data and how to give feedback on setup changes, which proved crucial as I transitioned to race cars. In particular, this training continued to serve me well as I learned the art of racing Miatas, which I found handles very much like a kart! Maintaining corner momentum, rotating the car, and being relaxed and smooth were all principles I learned first in kart racing. My karting education has also helped me in the Formula Speed car that I am racing this year, where I apply the same patience and throttle control I learned in the more powerful Rotax-powered divisions. Of everything I have driven so far, I feel the formula car requires a very clinical approach to driving compared to a kart or a Miata. This is largely due to the fact that if you are not very precise, there is a lot more on the line than just messing up stickers.

Since the beginning, my main mentor has been my dad. Along with my mother, I have been pushed to understand the sport beyond the driver’s seat, and to internalize just how vital maintaining sponsor relationships is to continued progression in a motorsports career. As a result, I am fortunate to have a number of great supporters, including Spencer Fane, All Stars RV, and some new ones coming on board for this season that I will share soon!

Just like any other racing family, our team has always had a concrete motorsports budget. While we do our best to maximize the learning experience and results we could achieve with it, it isn’t without temptation to buy ‘faster’ stuff for the sake of making our racing lives easier. Still, while many spend a lot of their finances focused on kart racing at a national level, I believe that our team sees a longer term approach that is better for us financially. As a driver, I do my best to isolate these areas of consideration from my mind when I am on track, as I want to maximize my potential with the vehicle placed underneath me. So far, I believe I have been able to do exactly that! Some of the best racing I had last year was in Spec Miata with NASA. There, our team could only budget to afford one new set of tires for the year. With this relegating us to mid-pack at times, I learned an immense amount about race-craft as a result. This “use what you have and get on with it” mindset has really helped me in general, not just with my racing.

Looking forward into 2018, Dykstra predicts success thanks to the support of his parents.

Looking forward further into 2018, I believe our team must set a goal to win the SCCA Colorado and Mid-states region championship in Spec Miata, as well as the championship in the Formula Speed car. As the racing season has begun in earnest, so have I outside of the car as much as in it. From the meeting room to the gym, I am pushing myself to find new partners for the coming season, and improve my strength and conditioning for the increased demands of Formula Car racing. No matter the cost in terms of time and effort, the thing that drives me this season is the opportunity to continue to learn and gain additional seat time with a professional racing team.


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