|The RACE 101 house car.|
RACE 101 reached an unlikely milestone in the early morning hours of August 19th. When the checkered flag flew over the 150-lap Late Model feature at Southern National Motorsports Park, the race car designed and prepared by RACE 101-founder Tony Blanchard, crew chiefed by RACE 101-graduate Howard Gage and driven by RACE 101-graduate Luke Whitteker crossed the line in 10th place, on the lead lap.
“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 it means yet.”
Success in racing comes at a cost. Financially, emotionally, physically and mentally, racing takes its toll on even the toughest competitors. Saturday’s finish represented years of planning by Blanchard, and the obstacles the team overcame along the way were staggering.
RACE 101 is unlike most other ‘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 race car physics, mechanics of the sport, public relations, marketing and media. The program also provides students an opportunity to test in a Late Model. One student among the graduates is named premier driver, and they receive an opportunity to compete in the Blanchard-designed Super Late Model.
“Financially, the concept makes no sense,” admits 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 and no cost to the driver aside from his pit admission -- is ridiculous. And we did it.
“When we created this program, the idea was to help aspiring racers. Young drivers need knowledge to succeed, but they also need hope. Where in the world can you spend $2,500 to learn about our sport, get the opportunity to test a Late Model and go racing in top notch equipment?
“Right here. That’s where.”
In addition to fielding its own house car, RACE 101 also helps other teams improve and refine their on-track performance.
|RACE 101 founder Tony Blanchard|
“RACE 101 is a huge part of our program,” said Dave Moody, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio host and owner of Godfather Motorsports, which fields entries on the Pro All Stars Super Late Model and CCS Limited Super Late Model Series’. “Their technical resources and diagnostic equipment far surpass what most teams have at their disposal, and we learned more in an afternoon at Tony Blanchard’s shop than would could have learned in a year of trial and error at the race track.”
Based in Denver, North Carolina, RACE 101 is in its third year, with a class of more than a dozen eager racers from across North America. While the Southern National event was not the first for the RACE 101 house car, it personified the goals of the program.
“Howard Gage played a huge role in the car 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 would never have taken the green flag.”
Whitteker pounded the back stretch wall in practice on race day, and Gage methodically put the machine back together in time for the team to compete.
“It was a big relief to see the race start,” said Gage. “Watching our car out there, mixing it up with the veterans despite having a driver with minimal asphalt experience behind the wheel felt pretty good.”
While the team finished 10th, Blanchard said their finishing position was less important to the team that the fact that they persevered and got to the finish line under trying circumstances. “Getting to the finish was the reward,” he said. “It just so happens that nine drivers got there first.”
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 at the track with his helmet, entry fee, and the enthusiasm of a driver who earned his shot to race; just the way Blanchard envisioned.
For more information on the RACE 101 program, visit www.race101.net.