Summer is the high season for metro-area teen race drivers, many of whom already have years of experience behind the wheel. They do it for the fun and, just maybe, a future.
It’s tough enough for inexperienced drivers to make a name for themselves on the state’s auto racing circuit. Imagine what it’s like for a high school-aged driver.
“The first thing you have to do is earn the respect of the other drivers,” Purcell said. “They are all like, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”
Here’s a look at four metro-area teenagers who, unlike most of their varsity sports-playing peers, look forward to summer as their season to race and not relax.
Young at heart
Collin Olson of Hugo will turn 15 later his month. He has been racing since he was 7, three years after driving a four-wheeler for the first time.
“My dad [Al] thought it would be safer if I had a cage around me,” Olson said. “He got me started off in quarter midgets,” a division of racing for smaller cars with drivers usually ranging from 5 to 16 year old.
Olson still races in the quarter midget division as well as Winged Micro Sprints at St. Croix Valley Raceway in St. Croix Falls, Wis., and Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis. He is in second place in the Winged Micro Sprints points standings.
“I like to race as much as I can,” Olson said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
He eventually would like to race in the Super Late Model division because “it’s the closest to NASCAR,” he said. The NASCAR circuit would be a dream come true for Olson.
“I would love to be a NASCAR driver,” said Olson, who will be a sophomore at White Bear Lake this fall. “But we really don’t have the money to do that.”
Racing is in the blood of the Ostdiek family in Lakeville. It has now trickled down to Matthew and Michael.
The brothers currently race in two different divisions, so they can both drive car No. 40. It’s in honor of their late uncle, Dwain Behrens.
Their grandfather, John Ostdiek, owned Elko Speedway and Raceway Park. Their maternal grandfather, Larry Behrens, raced in the Midwest.
“Racing has been in our family a long time,” said Matthew, who recently graduated from Lakeville North. Michael is entering his junior year at the school. They both got their starts as quarter midget drivers.
Matthew, the 2011 driver of the year at Elko Speedway, is racing Super Late Models. At age 14, he became the youngest driver to win a Great North Legends feature event at the track in 2009.
“I have patience, and I’m a clean driver,” Matthew said. He is in 12th place in the Super Late Models points standings. “Michael is more aggressive. We have different driving styles.”
Michael is running in the INEX Legends series. Like his older brother, he won five quarter midget championships. In 2011, Michael won the INEX Dirt Nationals championship.
“I like [NASCAR driver] Kyle Busch because he drives super-hard. He doesn’t care what other people think,” said Michael, who took over the top spot in the Legends points standings this past weekend. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
That is, as long as it doesn’t become too pricey. It currently costs the family a minimum of $300 a night to race, and that is without the cars encountering any damage.
“It can get expensive if you are wrecking cars,” Matthew said.
No matter the style, success has been plentiful for the brother combination. The two have accumulated more than 100 trophies in the basement of their home. One that stands out in Michael’s mind is when he edged his older brother to win his uncle’s memorial race in 2011.
“That was pretty sweet,” Michael said.
Jack Purcell didn’t waste any time having an impact in the Mini Stock division after making the leap in classes.
He is the defending champion in the division at both Elko Speedway and Raceway Park. He was also the overall national points champion for the 2012 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series in Division V on asphalt.
“I didn’t think winning all three championships was possible,” Purcell said. “Last year was awesome.”
Purcell is in his fourth year of racing between the two tracks. He got his start racing dirt bikes at the age of 4.
“Racing is something I really took interest in at a young age,” Purcell said.
He was rookie of the year in his first season at Raceway Park when he was 14 years old.
Purcell was the Mini Stock division season and national champion in his second year of racing at Elko Speedway in 2011. He beat a 35-year-old two-time national champion for the title.
“It’s a pretty good challenge every year,” Purcell said. “If you put your mind to something, anything can happen.”
He has proved that just by driving his current car to victory lane. It was originally set to be a demolition car.
“We spent numerous hours setting it up,” Purcell said. “Now, we are racing every weekend with it. It’s a much faster car, and I get a little better with every lap I run.”
In 2012, Purcell won nine of the 23 races he competed in at Elko Speedway and Raceway Park. He had 21 top five finishes and finished in the top 10 in all 23 races.
“I’m an aggressive, but clean driver,” said Purcell, who currently sits atop the division standings at both tracks again this season. “If I need to be, I can push my way around the track.”
Purcell was one of 24 drivers invited to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series awards event last December in Charlotte, N.C. His success at such a young age has him thinking about the NASCAR circuit.
“I’ve been in touch with a few NASCAR representatives. If possible, I would like a chance to do it,” Purcell said. “If it turns out to be a hobby the rest of my life, I’m fine with that, too.”
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