Moments after piloting a black micro-sprint car around an oval track at Fairgrounds Speedway at upward of 90 mph, 13-year-old Mancos native Waylon Hale removed his helmet, took a deep breath and flashed a broad smile.
Although sweat dotted his brow and adrenaline coursed through his veins, the youngster, who will not be old enough to hold a driver’s license for almost three years, exuded calm.
“When you reach that speed, you don’t think about anything,” Hale said. “You don’t think about anything. You just keep your eyes on the track.”
Part of a large group of teen and preteen drivers who have competed at Fairgrounds Speedway this season, Hale has impressed rookies and veterans with his rare combination of racing instincts and unmistakable poise.
Like many of the young drivers that he competes against, however, Hale is no stranger to a steering wheel and gas pedal.
“I went to the races with my dad when I was 8 years old,” the Mancos driver said. “That got me started driving a car called a quarter-midget, and I raced down in Aztec, New Mexico, for several years. I recently moved up to (a mini-sprint car), and I also race a sport compact.”
While race victories have been the most visible and consistent aspect of Hale’s young career, his dedication to his sport has extended far beyond race day as he generally spends several hours each week tuning his cars.
“I do quite a bit of work in the shop,” Hale said. “Especially on these mini-sprints, you have to check all of the nuts and bolts because (the car) is not factory stock like the sport compacts. My dad owns a mechanic shop in Mancos where I test and tune and stuff.”
Most recently competing at Fairgrounds Speedway on the evenings of Friday and Saturday, Hale captured top finishes in the Youth Sport Compact division’s A-Main event and finished third and second in the A-Main event for his micro-sprint car.
“I would like to race my whole life,” the Mancos driver said. “Someday, I would like to get to NASCAR.”
Preteens provide glimpse of futureWhile Hale’s performances were among the best delivered by youth drivers at Fairgrounds Speedway last weekend, several other young drivers, including a handful of preteens, also put on a show.
Among them was 10-year-old AJ Luttmer of Salt Lake City, Utah, who deftly drove a micro-sprint car capable of reaching 90 mph without fear despite flipping a similar car when he competed in Cortez one year ago.
“Last time I was here, my car flipped. It was shocking,” Luttmer said. “I’ve been doing great this time. Going fast is my favorite part of racing.”
Joining Luttmer on the race rack was 10-year-old Brody Hill, the grandson of local race legend and engine builder Tony Hill, who celebrated his birthday Saturday by finishing 12th overall in the youth sport compact division.
My dad, my papa, my grammy, and my papa Chuck all help me with my car,” Hill said. “I get ready, and I gear up and all that. I check my tire pressure, and I check my motor to see if anything is missing and all that.”
Shedding light on the family nature of youth racing, 10-year-old Farmington resident and sport compact driver Kasyn Mathews explained that he initially was exposed to racing when he co-piloted RZRs with his father in California.
Two years ago, Mathews began driving his own RZR during dessert races in Salt Lake City and California. And now, he has begun driving a sport compact stock car in hopes of delivering a bright future to his sport.
“One of the great things (race promoter) Gene Williams has done is that he’s started this youth compact class,” Tony Hill said. “It’s literally a car that you knock the windows out of and you put a safe seat and seat belts and a roll cage in, and these kids can come out here and race and it’s cheap and affordable. This year, it has grown faster than any other class that we’ve had. What’s good is that it’s bringing younger blood into our sport.”
Those interested in seeing Hale, Hill and other young drivers compete can witness all the action during two nights of racing at the speedway Aug. 21-22.