OK motorsports fans, do you recognize the name Daniel De La Calle. No? Not to worry. Outside of karting circles and the Skip Barber Racing School, even the hardest of hardcore racing aficionados would be hard-pressed to identify the 18-year-old from Burlingame, CA. But, truth be told, not many folks had heard of AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Hunter-Reay or Ricky Taylor at a similar stage in their careers.
De La Calle took a giant step towards following in that trio’s illustrious wheel tracks at Sebring this week by besting some of the world’s top young karting talent in Skip Barber Racing School’s 2014 Karts to Cars Scholarship Shootout. For his efforts, De La Calle was awarded the RACER Magazine Top Gun trophy along with a $40,000 scholarship to either the SBRS 2014 Winter or Summer Series, springboards to success for former Shootout winners Allmendinger, Hunter-Reay and Taylor, not to mention the likes of Alexander Rossi, Michael Valiante, Jonathan Edwards and Spencer Pigot.
“This is awesome,” said De La Calle (LEFT). “It really validates the confidence people have shown in me. Not only do I have the budget to take the next step, it’s prepared me to take that step. I learned so much here these three days. So I’m going to the Summer Series not just hoping for good results, but expecting them.”
Speaking of good results, De La Calle was not alone in advancing towards a spot on the grid at Indianapolis, Sebring, Talladega or Monaco. Dakota Dickerson (San Diego, CA) and Konrad Czaczyk (Loxahatchee, FL) placed runner-up and third in the Shootout, earning $15,000 and $10,000, respectively, towards the next rung on the SBRS system.
“This is my second Shootout,” said Czaczyk. “Last year I finished fifth, and that experience plus the feedback from the instructors helped me finish third this time. I plan to use the scholarship for the Winter Series and, hopefully, run a full National season next summer, and then see where it goes from there.”
Although they scooped the prizes, De La Calle, Dickerson and Czaczyk were just three of 17 participants in the Karts to Cars Scholarship. They all gained not only a better understanding of the skills and techniques needed to become racecar drivers, but also how to harness their passion for racing, thanks to seminars with Indy 500-winning team owner, Bryan Herta and MAVTV motorsports personality Dave Despain.
The 16 young men and one woman represented a catholic cross section of ages, from 25- year-old Jordan Wallace (Annapolis, MD) and 18-year-old Lindsay Brewer (Arvada, CO) to 13-year-old Michael d’Orlando (Hartsdale, NY). All are transitioning to racecars after enjoying significant success in karting; all had done at least one Skip Barber Race School three-day course; some had done an SBRS Advanced program or two; some (like Czaczyk) had even done a Karts to Cars Scholarship Shootout before. But – by rule – none had more than a dozen days in SBRS programs prior to this week.
All were scored on an assortment of criteria including fastest lap, consistency, and seeking and responding to feedback from the instructors, while there were point deductions for spins, off-course excursions and crashes. (Happily, there were none of the latter.) And to account for the fact that some learning curves were steeper than others, everyone got a mulligan – i.e. dropped his or her worst score from the five sessions.
By the last sessions on Thursday, it had become obvious the competition was De La Calle’s to lose. Although they all would have wanted to be in De La Calle’s position, that was OK with the other participants. For example, Dickerson and Czaczyk went into the session with a gentleman’s agreement to swap track position back and forth in the hopes one or the other could slipstream his way to the fastest lap of the program.
It didn’t work, as that honor went to 15-year-old Braden Eves (LEFT) of Gohanna, OH, and Dickerson and Czaczyk were left to douse fellow teen De La Calle with sparkling grape juice on the podium. Likewise, secure in the knowledge they were out of the running for the scholarships, Pablo Carballedo (San Bruno, CA) and Neil Verhagen (Mooresville, NC) spent the balance of the final session racing one another rather than fretting about their scores.
“I came with no expectations, win or lose,” explained Verhagen (age 15). “I came for the experience and I definitely learned a lot. With the seat time and feedback from the instructors, I cut nearly a second off my best time here.”
While the focus of the Shootout is, of course, about who wins those top three precious prizes, the Karts to Cars Scholarship program is really about giving the 17 participants the skills and knowledge to become the best race drivers they can be.
“I tell these kids this isn’t about who’s the fastest or who wins the Shootout,” said Bruce McInnes, senior Skip Barber driving instructor. “It’s all about becoming a better race driver. Until the last lap of the Indy 500, you’re only racing yourself.”
Who knows? Ryan Hunter-Reay could find himself racing against a fellow Karts to Cars graduate on the last lap of the 2020 Indy 500, or in the case of d’Orlando, the 2030 Indy 500!