Some of the Pirelli World Challenge’s star drivers on the track aren’t old enough to drive on the street
When Nate Stacy won his first GTS race at Sonoma Raceway in his Roush Performance Road Racing Ford Boss 302 (bottom of page) with Parker Chase in the Performance Motorsports Ginetta (above) second, it marked perhaps the youngest top two in World Challenge history. Stacy is 16, just old enough to get a license to drive on the street. Chase is 15, so he can’t even drive home from the track. There are others – 15-year-old Henry Morse races in Touring Car B (below) and won two races this season; even in GT there are several drivers who can’t spray champagne yet, such as 18-year-old Austin Cindric.
The GTS win at Sonoma wasn’t Stacy’s first World Challenge win, either – he won in TCB at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park two years ago at 14. And further proving that these young drivers aren’t just getting lucky once in a while, Stacy had eight podium finishes, divided equally between second and third, and ended up second in the GTS points. Chase was fourth in the points and named Rookie of the Year in the GTS class.
There was a time not so long ago that a driver under 18 couldn’t even get a competition license to race in SCCA competition. But, like in many sports, they’re starting younger and younger, and often coming in with more experience than some of their older counterparts thanks to karting.
“I was the youngest driver in SCCA history at the time to get a license, and that was in 1971,” says Dorsey Schroeder, the 1989 Trans-Am champion who now serves as race director for Pirelli World Challenge. “You look at the kids nowadays that are 16 and they’ve come out of karting, they’re coming with experience, and it’s proven a pretty good thing so far.”
Not everyone is always welcoming at first, though, notes Stacy. “I think I’ve even told other drivers that are younger, ‘Be ready for discrimination, because the moment you mess up – even if it’s not your fault – if you’re involved in contact, everyone’s going to say, ‘He’s too young.’ Luckily, when I started, we had really good drivers in TCB, probably the strongest field there ever was. We came in when everyone was really strong, everyone was giving each other respect. I was only once ever in one incident in TCB, and I got turned into, which bounced me into another car.”
Winning, of course, brings some respect. But even before that, the younger drivers have found that it’s possible to earn the respect of the other drivers if you race cleanly.
“What happens is if you get the respect of the other drivers, once you do that, they start defending you,” says Stacy (right).
Racers of every age are prone to overexuberance, youthful or otherwise. That’s where Schroeder comes in:
“I have seen, during the course of the year, these drivers get into trouble,” he notes. “At the beginning of the year, there were some tense moments for them. At one point, after they got some confidence, they were over-driving the car. I had to sit down with some of them – and their mothers and fathers – and say, ‘Look, it’s all good, but right now you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’re driving too hard – you need to go back to the basics.’ Everybody’s guilty of that at some point in time. They responded perfectly and we haven’t had another problem. I knew they’d be good; they showed talent right away.”
Some race series are even talking about allowing drivers as young as 13, but Schroeder admits he has some concerns about that. Still, with racers starting in karting at ever younger ages, they’re ready for cars sooner and sooner, so the trend toward more younger drivers isn’t likely to slow down.
“I think I’ve proven everyone wrong and they’ve gotten used to it,” says Stacy. “I feel I’ve opened the door for Parker and the others to come in, because they have time to come in and they’re going to give them a chance. I’ve proven that it can be done. I think I’ve helped the cause, but I don’t think it’s done yet; it can go farther. Everyone is open minded about age.”