Saturday, June 9th, 2007
Bremen midget racer burns up the track
By William Kincaid
New Bremen race car driver Drew Charlson is in the midst of what may be his final United States Auto Club (USAC) midget racing series this summer.
The precocious 14-year-old speedster, who began racing go-carts at age 6, and his parents Andy and Cindy, are gaining as much experience and exposure as possible - and trying to snag a sponsor for the next step in racing, the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA).
"We're in the learning curve right now," Andy Charlson said during a recent Daily Standard interview with his son.
ARCA is a national racing circuit comprised of drivers and their stockcars, which are similar to the ones used in NASCAR. Like the NASCAR Truck and Busch feeder series, many of the participants are developmental drivers -sponsored by major NASCAR racing teams - trying to reach the big league, Drew said.
But without a major sponsor, which could provide hundreds of thousand of dollars, Andy Charlson said Drew won't be able to compete at the next level.
"That's the problem," Andy Charlson said, pointing out that it would be "almost more detrimental" for Drew to race in ARCA without a sponsor.
Therefore Drew and his parents - who are also the sole members of his racing crew - have been sending out resumes and letters to major NASCAR racing teams.
"You've got to communicate with these people," Andy Charlson said. "Our plan is to hook up with somebody bigtime."
But ever since the well-spoken, humble and mature-beyond-his-years driver began racing, it seems he has always found a way to pass by the opposition.
In 2006, Drew moved from go-carts and champ carts, which he used to race exclusively, to a midget race car - sponsored by Century 21, where his father is a real estate sales associate.
"We just wanted to start moving up," Drew said, pointing out that it was one step closer to fulfilling his lifetime goal of racing in NASCAR.
At his first USAC National Midget race, an indoor race known as the Fort Wayne Rumble with some competitors in their 20s and 30s, Drew made history in front of over 10,000 spectators. After qualifying 15th, Drew won won his heat and moved on to the 60-lap feature race, which included professional drivers Tony Stewart, Dave Darland and Mel Kenyon.
During the race, Drew was in third place before he bent one of his axles, sending him back to eighth place out of the 14 competitors. After catching up a bit, he finished the race in sixth place, becoming the youngest USAC driver to qualify, win his heat and participate in the feature race of his first USAC National race.
When asked about his expectations for the race, Drew said he was happy to qualify. However, his father admitted Drew had confidently told him that "he wanted to beat Tony Stewart."
"That was pretty big," Drew said, before his father added that "it's a little scary as a parent" to watch his son compete against such formidable opponents.
Though Drew often races against and defeats adult drivers - who Andy said many times make their living through these races in addition to selling racing equipment - the reaction is not always gracious.
At the Cabin Fever Showdown at Lake Village Motor Speedway in Indiana, Drew once again defeated much older racers in the senior class, leading every lap. Although Andy said the rules stated there was no specific minimum age requirement, the track owner called them three days later, asking for him to return the $1,000 check and trophy because he was too young.
"They knew," Andy said about the rules, which he kept a copy of, forcing the track's attorney to drop the case. "He beat their butts."
Drew said some of the older drivers, who are regulars at that particular track, were simply jealous.
Racing may run in the Charlson blood, as Andy one raced modified cars. He said he bought his then 6-year-old son his first go-cart for Christmas. Without much practice, Drew went right to his first competitive race, which his father said was "not the place to start a 6-year-old."
"He knew what to do right away," Andy said. "A natural. I don't know where he got it from."
Drew said some New Bremen school officials at first were not keen on him missing school to attend races. He said he was allowed to miss a maximum of 10 days a year, as he travels throughout the country. But now, he said many of them have changed their mindsnow that they see it is a serious endeavor.
"It's got their attention," Andy said.
Drew now even has fans, as he often signs autographs at races and local events.
"Just seeing the fans happy ... it's pretty cool," Drew said.
And Andy said his son "just never ceases to amaze me. I have a lot of confidence in him as a driver," he said.
Drew's current race schedule and history can be viewed at www.drewcharlson.com.