CHARLES SCHROEDER Editor
Paulie Hartwig III recently broke a racing record set over a decade ago by NASCAR superstar Chase Elliott.
On August 2, the boy from Galloway Township became the youngest race winner in history at North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina.
And by doing so at age 11, he left Elliott’s record in the dust. Elliott, 26, a second-generation NASCAR star who won the 2020 Cup Series championship, was 14 when he won at North Wilkesboro for the first time.
Racing in Crate Modifieds against riders two, three and four times his age, Paulie set the record on a Tuesday night. The next night? He went there and won again.
“It’s really nice to break Chase Elliott’s record,” Paulie said last week.
The victory was stunning, even for her parents, Paul and Lisa, and she got a lot of attention online. The report by a Greensboro television station, including an interview with Paulie, has been viewed more than 68,000 times on YouTube.
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“I loved racing with these guys,” Paulie said of his big run in North Carolina. “They give me a lot of respect. … After the race, they said congratulations to me.
Paul Hartwig said it was “the biggest race of the year you could win with our type of cars”.
Lisa Hartwig said they got to North Wilkesboro with “no expectations because we knew who we were up against,” mentioning some established and, of course, much older drivers.
Work your way up
It all started quite young: a 3-year-old child going go-karts in the Lakewood family garden with the guidance of a father who had learned to race at 11 and still does.
“I started late,” joked Paul Hartwig.
At age 4, Paulie competed in his first two races in Pennsylvania. He won both.
Over the years, he progressed in the world of racing. He won two national quarter-midget titles, as well as regional, track and field and slingshot titles. The eldest Hartwig estimates that his son has won over 150 victories.
“When he was 7, it just clicked like 100%,” said Paul Hartwig.
In 2020, Paulie won a national title for Tobias’ Junior Slingshots, commonly referred to as that circuit’s World Series. He raced on asphalt and dirt tracks. He has driven 4-cylinder cars and, for the past year and a half, modified cars.
The racing season for the Hartwigs begins in April or May and keeps them busy for months. Paulie raced primarily in Pennsylvania, but also in Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina. One place he hasn’t raced is New Jersey, where he is several years away from being old enough.
This year, Paulie has won five races and finished about 15 in the top five, his father said. And he’s not driving against other 11-year-olds. His opponents are usually between 18 and 65 years old.
“They actually have a lot of respect for him because he rides them like a veteran,” his father said. “He had to earn it.”
Sometimes father and son may even participate in the same race. “We’ve raced here and there together when funds allow us both to race,” said Paul Hartwig.
And when the funds don’t? “He always gets the first crack. He is always the first,” the father said.
Paulie knows it too. “He always wants to focus on me,” he said.
Best of all, though, is when father and son race in the same race, as they did this month in Pennsylvania.
“He finished second and I finished fourth. I love running with him,” Paulie said.
In for the long haul
The list of accomplishments is long for an 11-year-old, or a 40-year-old, for that matter. But at or near the top of the list: those two races he won at North Wilkesboro Speedway, a former NASCAR circuit that was closed for years and only came back to life this month. Dale Earnhardt Jr. watched from the infield this opening night, and the retired NASCAR star is scheduled to race there Wednesday night.
Paulie speaks like the veteran racer he is when explaining his strategy – saving his tires for races, not using them all in the preliminaries, keeping the car in one piece so the fun can continue in the next race . “We don’t have to set the world on fire,” he explained. “We just want to race every weekend.”
He is a fan of Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion who grew up in southern Ocean County. But Cup races are not his long-term goal. He likes modified races.
“It’s really important for me to do something in life. To keep myself busy and working on cars every week,” he said. “I want to go until about age 40, riding the (modified) Whelan tours.”
Lisa Hartwig watches her boy, so much younger than the other drivers, zip around the tracks at 100 mph. “It’s a mixed emotion. It’s pretty crazy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “It’s what we live and breathe. We love racing.
Paul Hartwig said he thought his son was safer on the modified models than the previous types he had flown. More roll bars, better and safer equipment.
Paulie will be entering sixth grade at Arthur Rann Elementary School. Racing dominates his young life – he’s big on iRacing when he’s not on the track – but he also plays basketball in a local recreational league. And only gets A’s and B’s in school, her parents said.
“He’s an 11-year-old at heart. Messing around, joking around. But when he gets in that race car, he’s like a 35-year-old. Totally serious,” Paul Hartwig said.
“He’s a good boy in school,” Lisa Hartwig said. “He is careful, he is very polite. We always get good feedback from teachers when we hold parent-teacher meetings. »
The only concern they sometimes hear from the school is about Paulie’s race-related absences, his parents said.
No school in the summer, however, Paulie and his parents focused on their racing adventures.
After Paulie won the first night in North Wilkesboro, his mother let him know he didn’t need to race the next night.
“He was like, ‘Mom, I’m going 2 for 2.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’