August 25, 2009
Refer to this page for exclusive articles and interviews with today’s up-and-coming open wheel drivers.
News and Views on Drivers Chasing Open-Wheel Stardom
August 25, 2009
Refer to this page for exclusive articles and interviews with today’s up-and-coming open wheel drivers.
Scott Hargrove could feel the lactic acid building in his muscles. Despite the pain, he continued to pedal his bike and maintain a high cadence in order to stay on the wheel and in the draft of his older brother Robert — a UCI licensed cyclist who regularly achieves an epic suffer score on Strava.com.
With his legs and lungs working at maximum capacity and heart rate spiked, Hargrove continues to push and chase. He knows the effort will pay off. Fitness is key for a race car driver and Scott’s has never been better; thanks in part to his brother Robert, who after suffering a severe knee injury during a 2011 ski cross race with the British Columbia team (BCSC), turned to bikes as a way to rehab.
“He likes to push my limits,” Scott said, when asked about training with his brother Robert. “The only real chance I have to keep up with him is after he has already done double this distance of me earlier in the day. He’s an Iron Man in my eyes and has turned into a true athlete. That, for sure, drives me to follow in his foot steps.
“The motivation carries through into whatever I am doing,” Scott continued, “whether it be schoolwork, training, or racing.”
The morning after pursuing his brother 60 kilometers (nearly 40-miles) at a strenuous pace, Hargrove turns his focus to school work and stuffs his backpack full of books, his laptop, gym clothes, and lunch. After strapping the nearly 50-pound bundle to his back, he climbs onto his late-90s dark-blue Specialized carbon road bike, equipped with fenders and rides to class, 15 km one way.
Without farm machinery, Joel Miller might not have been introduced to the racing world. Joel’s grandfather, Bob Burns, had a wide variety of farm equipment situated on his alfalfa ranch in Lucerne Valley, California. As a youngster, Joel was always impressed with his grandfather’s ability to maneuver the equipment around the property. When Joel was about five years old, Bob allowed his grandson to operate some of the heavy-machinery. At first, the routine involved grandpa running the pedals and Joel steering. It wasn’t that Joel couldn’t operate the pedals, he simply couldn’t reach them and even if he could, he just didn’t have the weight to utilize the pedals efficiently. At age seven, Joel was finally able to reach the pedals and had just enough strength to push in the clutch – so Bob allowed him to take sole control. Miller started with a small plow but was soon operating an eight-wheel earth mover, all by himself. He learned quickly and took the reins without a second thought and grandpa took notice.
Burns had been involved with go-kart racing during the late 1970s. Joel’s uncles traveled around the United States and competed in various racing series for quite a few years. After stepping away from the sport for a time, Bob decided to get back into it after randomly coming across a small go-kart shop in Arizona. He knew that Joel could operate large farm equipment with relative ease, so he figured why not let him try his hand at go-kart racing. He purchased the kart, loaded it up, and brought it home for Joel.
In the fall of 1996, Joel (8 years old) and his grandfather began making trips to Adams Kart Track in California for testing purposes. Just like everything else he had ever driven, Joel adapted to a racing kart quickly. Bob’s intuitions about Joel’s talent were very real. Less than a year later, Miller entered his first go-kart race, an IKF (International Karting Federation) event in Parris, California. He finished second. The very next season, 1998, Joel was crowned the IKF California State Champion at only ten years of age. It was clear that he had natural ability behind-the-wheel and by this time, he was hooked. Miller had officially been bit by the racing bug.
“There was no real decision about whether or not I wanted to race,” said Miller when asked about how he got his start in racing. “It was what I was good at. Some kids are good at various sports like soccer, baseball, football, etc., but in my case it was driving.”
Joel’s championship winning season in 1998 was just the start. Since making his racing debut in 1997, the Hesperia, California native has gone on to win more than 92 main events behind-the-wheel of a kart or formula car. He has won seven major championships.
Miller’s racing career hasn’t been perfect though. He’s had his share of ups-and-downs, including a serious accident in 1999. He missed the first half of the 1999 season after suffering a complete laceration of his liver following a crash at the start of the season. The injuries were so severe that he was induced into a coma to aide his recovery. Strangely enough, he continued racing that fall, unfazed and won the 1999 SKUSA SuperNationals in the Junior 60cc division.
In 2002 after earning a few more karting championships, Joel, at age 13, decided to make the transition to cars by training with PR1’s Bobby Oergel in a Formula Ford racecar. Meanwhile, he continued to develop his craft by competing in go-karts where he graduated to the Senior Intercontinental A (ICA) direct-drive class. In 2004, he won his first-ever car race in the Pacific F2000 series while competing at California Speedway for PR1 Motorsport. Unfortunately, due to funding woes, Joel was forced to withdraw, despite leading the drivers’ championship. During this period he remained active by competing in the Stars of Karting series as a privateer, working with his father Jack and tuner Seth Nash. That winter, he had the opportunity to get back into car racing by competing in the Skip Barber Western Regional Championship event at Mazda Raceway – Laguna Seca. He won the race.
In 2005, he continued his karting efforts and gained international exposure after being signed as a factory Tony Kart driver halfway through the season. Red Bull Racing also took notice as Joel was a finalist in the 2005 Red Bull North American Driver Search. He concluded the 2005 karting season by capturing the Stars of Karting (ICA) Western Division National Championship and subsequently earned the $25,000 Jim Truman Scholarship for outstanding performance.
The 2006 season was a bit of a break-out year for the California native. Miller continued his dominance in the ICA ranks by winning the Stars of Karting Eastern Division Championship and the overall National Championship. That fall, he was awarded a fully-funded ride in the 2007 Skip Barber National Championship for his season performance. He also dabbled in a front-engine USAC Ford Focus Midget by running a one-off Trophy Dash in Blythe, California – he won in his debut.
By this time, at age 19, Joel’s career was really on a roll thanks to all the scholarship support. He put his Skip Barber opportunity to good use by winning five of twelve events en route to winning the overall National Championship. Still competing in karts and developing as a driver, he won the 2007 Florida Winter Tour and the TaG-Senior division in the SKUSA SuperNationals. Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw took notice of Joel’s performances and subsequently awarded him with the prestigious Team USA Scholarship at the end of the 2007 racing season. The program took him overseas to compete in the Formula Palmer Audi Championship where he finished 7th.
Thanks to his performance in the 2007 Skip Barber National Championship, Joel was awarded a fully-funded ride in the 2008 Star Mazda Championship as part of the MazdaSPEED Driver Development Program. The scholarship was valued at approximately $350,000. He finished 2nd in the 2008 drivers’ championship – just missing a fully-funded Atlantic Championship ride. In 2009, he decided to return to Star Mazda with hopes of getting another scholarship. Unfortunately, he was competing on a shoe-string budget and ended the year ranked fifth.
This pretty much brings us up-to-date (2010). Joel is currently working hard to come up with the necessary funding for a ride in Firestone Indy Lights – the feeder series to IndyCar. With the help of several businesses, Joel was able to make his debut in a Indy Lights car at Long Beach. He finished 11th in his first race with minimal experience behind-the-wheel. He is now working on putting together enough funding to compete in the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom-100 at Indianapolis. The event is run during the same weekend as the Indy 500.
Utilizing a unique marketing idea, Joel has created a website entitled JMillerIndy.com which offers fans the chance to donate as little as $10 in order to become a key sponsor – helping Joel get back in an Indy Lights car for the May 28, 2010 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Read the interview with Joel Miller after the jump.
During the 1950’s Harry Vernon Jr. traveled the east coast competing in stock cars at various race tracks. He drove alongside the likes of Red Farmer and Bobby Allison. He had no idea that his pastime would have such a huge influence on both his son (Harry Vernon III) and his grandson (Court Vernon). While growing up, Harry Vernon III—who was heavily influenced by his father’s racing— wanted to race anything he could get his hands on. He spent time in the karting ranks, racing ATVs and he even dabbled in stock cars at the local level. But, this story isn’t about Harry Vernon Jr. or Harry Vernon III; it’s about Court Vernon, the grandson of Harry Vernon Jr. and son of Harry Vernon III.
It sort of goes without saying, Court was destined to have “racing in his blood” long before he was born. His father always encouraged him to participate in more traditional sports. Court wasn’t particularly interested though. He had one focus; Racing. All of this probably stems back to the days of watching his father race karts and looking through old photo albums of Harry Vernon Jr.’s NASCAR days.
“I’ve wanted to go fast for as long as I can remember. I always went as fast as I could whether I was on my tricycle or my Big Wheel while growing up. My father was still karting when I was little and I remember sitting in his lap while he drove around the track,” Court stated when I asked about the early days of his need for speed.
He enjoyed the thrill of going fast but he wasn’t truly bitten by the racing bug until he was nine years old.
When I was nine years old, my father bought me my first go-kart. From that moment on my fate was sealed. I started running in the Cadet series and the Easy Kart 60cc division and have just worked my way up since,” continued Court.
He competed in the karting ranks for six years prior to making the transition to open-wheel race cars through the Skip Barber Racing School. In 2008, at the age of sixteen, he competed in the Skip Barber Eastern Regional Championship where he was eventually crowned champion with eight wins to his name.
At the end of the 2008 season, he decided to sample a Star Mazda car by competing at Road Atlanta with Team GDT. The jump from Skip Barber regional competition to Star Mazda is pretty unorthodox, but Court managed just fine and impressed a lot of people with his results. He drove from 20th to 9th, earning a top-ten finish in his very first race.
That winter, December 2008, he won the top prize (along with Sage Karam) in the annual Skip Barber Karting Scholarship Shoot-Out; a fully-funded ride in the Skip Barber National Championship. The scholarship is designed to give top karters a chance at proving themselves in the car ranks.
After winning the fully-funded ride he spent the 2009 season in the Skip Barber National Championship. He produced some really solid results and finished 2nd in the overall championship to Connor De Phillippi. His performance—which included 2 wins, 8 podiums, 4 pole positions, 3 fast laps, 33 laps lead and 2 hard charger awards—led to him winning the 2009 Skip Barber National Rookie of the Year title. Subsequently, he was awarded a Star Mazda test with World Speed Motorsports.
This brings us up to date. With the 2010 season looming, Court is currently evaluating his options carefully and has yet to commit to a specific series. His prize funding is gone and his next step will be a very important one if he wants to put himself in a position to continue his move up the ladder.
I’m not sure if he will end up racing in NASCAR like his grandfather Harry Vernon Jr. did, but one thing is certain, he has the talent to race just about anywhere he wants if given a proper opportunity.
Read the interview with Court Vernon after the jump. [More]
It was an early spring morning in 1995. Gary Carlton and his father George were about to start a new venture. The duo had been observing local go-kart races for a few weeks and decided it looked like a fun hobby. That morning, in 1995, the Carltons set foot in the paddock as competitors—- not casual observers. Little did they know, that day was a catalyst to a very bright future in the sport. Gary is now regarded as one of the best shifter kart drivers in the world.
George Carlton purchased a used Emmick chassis for Gary, who was nine years old at the time, and signed his son up for the Cadet class. The seed was planted. Gary went on to win numerous races and regional championships prior to making the jump to the senior ranks aboard a 125cc shifter kart.
Unlike most seasonal karters, Gary would keep his kart out and race-ready during the winter months. Well, the California winter months that is. George required that Gary run endless laps in wet weather, a condition that is quite common during California winters. Not that it was much of a requirement really… Gary loved driving and racing in the rain, perhaps even more so than the dry. The winter testing seemed to really help his car control as he continued to win races in both wet and dry conditions.
Away from the traditional karting track, Gary could be found at a neighbor’s house driving a four-stroke kart around a dirt oval. Later, he and his friends created a rally course and took turns driving a Subaru Outback around the homemade circuit, each trying to outdo the other. All of this, as abstract as it might sound, helped mold Gary into the driver he is today.
When he turned 16, his karting talent began to really standout. That season, competing in the SKUSA ProMoto Tour, Gary earned the National #9 plate—-synonymous with a ninth place national ranking of all North American shifter kart pilots.
Another life changing moment occurred for Gary in 2004 when Trackmagic’s Fausto Vitello brought him in as a Factory driver and worked with Gary to create the Trackmagic FTR chassis.
Gary remained with Trackmagic until the untimely death of Fausto in 2006, who was both a good friend and supporter of Gary. Fausto passed away early in the 2006 season from a heart attack. Gary was competing in the 2nd Round of the 2006 Stars of Karting ICC championship when he learned about Vitello’s death. It was a heart wrenching experience for the 20-year-old driver but he managed to turn that weekend into one of his most memorable moments:
We had heard news of his passing late Saturday night before our race on Sunday. It was a huge blow to myself and our team. Fausto was way more to me than a boss. He had given me a chance to race when no other team would. He had taught me great lessons in life and was a great friend. Racing for his team was much more than any other team. We had to develop our own chassis from scratch being an American manufacturer while all the other teams would just import all the European chassis over and race.
It was my long time friend and my current mechanic Diego Valverde, new team driver Andrew Alfonso, his girlfriend Kristin and myself at this race. We were running a small one kart team out of a 20 foot trailer with an EZ-Up. We were the underdogs but we knew we stood a good chance of winning. Come the day after Fausto’s death we arrived at the track with only one option. We had to win. That day was one of the toughest in my life. We were perfect as a team the whole day and we took home the victory. This is my most memorable moment in life.
That same season, 2006, Carlton went on to win the SKUSA SuperNationals SuperPro division as well as the 2006 Stars of Karting ICC Championship. He followed up his 2006 Stars of Karting National Championship with a repeat win in 2007, solidifying himself as the number one shifter kart driver in North America.
Since that time, Gary has been competing in both Europe and North America. He remains one of the top shifter kart drivers in the world. Unlike most karters, he is perfectly fine with being a career karter. He has sampled cars here and there, but his real focus has been and remains karting.
Read the interview after the jump. [More]
In 2002, when a 14-year-old J.R. Hildebrand sat in a go-kart for his first racing experience he had no idea that he would be on the verge of an Indy Car ride just eight years later.
Hildebrand had a relatively late start in karting and motorsports, but he managed to impress those around him during his journey to the upper echelons of the sport and took advantage of the opportunities given to him.
Since that early morning in 2002, when he entered his first race, he has gone on to win 3 junior formula championships (Formula Russell, F2000, and Indy Lights).
The now 21-year-old J.R. Hildebrand is your 2009 Indy Lights champion and appears poised to make the jump to the prestigious Indy Car series in 2010.
This season alone, with the season finale yet to come, Hildebrand has won 4 races, earned 5 pole positions, and stood on the podium 9 times. He has finished inside the top-ten in 78.6% of his 2009 Indy Lights starts.
He recently sat down to do an interview with Junior Open Wheel Talent. Make the jump to read the entire interview…. [More]