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Race 101 Students Past And Present Finding Success
Posted by: newsla on Aug 23, 2012 - 04:24 PM
Race 101 Students Past And Present Finding Success

RACE 101 reached an unlikely milestone early on the morning of August 19th. It was well past midnight when the checkered flag flew at Southern National Motorsports Park (SNMP) in the 150-lap late model feature.


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The race car designed and prepared by RACE 101-founder Tony Blanchard, crew-chiefed by RACE 101-graduate and ambassador Howard Gage, and driven by RACE 101-graduate Luke Whitteker crossed the line in 10th place on the lead lap. In the eyes of Blanchard the race was a resounding success, and it took years to complete.

"We have a lot to be proud of," said Blanchard after the race. "It's hard to put into words what this race means to me and the school. I'm not sure I even understand how much this race means just yet."

Success in racing comes at a cost. Financially, emotionally, physically, and mentally racing takes its toll on even the toughest. Saturday's finish represented years of planning by Blanchard, and the obstacles the team overcame to even participate were staggering.

The concept of RACE 101 is unlike most 'driver development' programs in the industry. Aspiring racers pay between $2,500 and $5,000 to enroll in the one-year program, and their education includes studies in the physics of a race car, the simpler mechanics of the sport, public relations, marketing, media, and it provides students the opportunity to test in a late model. In addition one student among the graduates is named premier driver, and they are rewarded with the opportunity to compete in the Tony Blanchard-designed super late model. The value is unmatched, and the reward is invaluable. The naysayers did as much to encourage Blanchard as his supporters.

"Financially the entire concept makes no sense," said Blanchard. "The notion of taking a $60,000 race car to the track with an unproven driver to compete at these speeds with no damage clause, no cost to the driver aside from his entry into the race track is ridiculous. And we did it.

"When we created the program the idea was to help aspiring racers. As much as these young racers need knowledge to succeed they also need hope. Where in the world can you spend $2,500 to learn a great deal about our sport, get the opportunity to test a late model, and then go racing in top notch equipment for free? Right here. That's where."

The program based in Denver, North Carolina, is in its third year with a class of just more than a dozen eager racers from across North America. While the SNMP event wasn't the first race for the RACE 101 house car, it truly embodied the intent of the program.

"Howard (Gage) played a huge part in the car even competing this weekend," said RACE 101 instructor Adam Ross. "He's been a big part of RACE 101 since he graduated as part of our inaugural class. Without him the car never would have seen the green flag."

Whitteker pounded the back stretch wall in practice on the day of the race, and Gage methodically got things back together for him to compete. The damage was indicative of how the team continued to overcome challenges.

Whitteker made the long trek from Canada a month earlier to compete at SNMP, but rain forced the cancellation of the event. With weather in the area even this weekend's race looked to be in jeopardy, but well into the summer night the green flag finally flew.

"It was a big relief to finally see the race start," said Gage. "Watching the car out there, and knowing we had a dirt racer with no experience racing among veteran drivers and mixing it up felt pretty good."

The team finished 10th on the night. Ironically the number doesn't matter to Blanchard. Getting to the finish was the reward for his struggles. It just so happens that nine drivers got there first.

The milestone is that the team got there at all. Through the perseverence of one man - and the support of a select few who helped to create and execute RACE 101 - an aspiring racer showcased his talents among competitors with more experience, more money, and more resources.

Next month Whitteker will return to North Carolina to compete for the final time in Blanchard's specially-designed Howe race car with McGunegill horsepower. He will arrive with his helmet, entry fee, and the enthusiasm of a driver who earned his shot to race - just the way Blanchard envisioned.

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