Think about the scenario: the 16-year-old asks for the keys to the car. What emotions burn in the chest as visions of mechanical chaos unfold in the brain? Jess and Elizabeth Love of Menlo Park had similar feelings with their son Jesse – when he was five.

They gave him the keys.

Good choice. Jesse Love is now the youngest champion in American Racing Club of America history and, in mid-August, the points leader on the ARCA Menard Series West stock car circuit.

Toyota brought him into the team for training and gave him the best car on the team. As ARCA puts it, Jesse drives “the famous Toyota # 16, sponsored by NAPA Auto Parts, inheriting a car that won six West Series championships dating back to 1999”.

He’s on the verge of becoming a full-fledged NASCAR driver, part of a system that has produced famous champions such as Kyle Busch and Martin Truex. He and his team have no doubts that he would race and could stage NASCAR races against the best in the business if he was able to do so today, but it’s against the rules.

Drivers must be 18 years old to participate in a NASCAR race. Jesse is 16 years old.

This story originally appeared in the September edition of Climate Magazine. Click here to read the full digital publication.

A young champion

He seems perfectly set to be a champion, not only in skill and talent, but also in composure, poise, presence and presentability. Climate first introduced Jesse Love in 2016 as he and his local Redwood City-based team tore the USAC midget racing circuit apart. At the risk of repeating himself, he was also the youngest champion in the history of this circuit.

This profile observed that Jesse, then 11, “looks very grown up to a person his age,” and quoted mother Elizabeth as saying that “spending so much time with her father and with so many adults in her life. life, he’s learned to be a very, very good communicator. “

Even more so at 16.

The high school student is fully aware and can clearly articulate how to pursue the pinnacle of their chosen profession. “We are all in the same boat,” he said. “The only person I owe this to except God is my father.

“… Now it is not enough to be a driver. You have to be a good spokesperson, you have to be friendly and you have to drive. I owe all of this to my dad and everyone who brought me to Toyota. Right now it’s a difficult hill to climb. It’s harder than climbing Mount Everest.

But, “… I have the confidence of the people who sponsor me, the people who manage me and the people who trust me to do the right thing every weekend. It’s not about trust or pressure, it’s just that we’re a team and I’m going to get down to it. I’m the luckiest guy to be in the car seat and win races with it. So I have to work the hardest part of the team and be the best leader I can be, on and off the track 100% of the time.

Stock-car racing center

Living away from home contributes to the pressures exerted by his work at the adult level. Six months ago, he and Dustin Edge, a Driver Relations Representative, moved to Cornelius, North Carolina.

Anyone who hasn’t heard of it is clearly not a stock car racing geek. Cornelius, a suburb on Lake Norman north of Charlotte with a population of 25,000, is close to the geographic center of stock car racing, a quintessential American sport born out of moonlight racing in the early to mid-1900s when outlaws have inflated their daily errands to outrun the police. Think of “Smokey and the Bandit”.

Twenty racetracks are dotted around the pine forests of North Carolina. “I can chase my dreams here,” Jesse said, “where all the racing teams are located, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is. The tracks are here. This is the center of racing.

Running is so much of Cornelius’ essence that eight of the 17 “remarkable people” on the community’s lists on Wikipedia are runners.

As for living away from home at 16, “it’s obviously young,” he said, “but you kind of want to eliminate the growing pains, live on your own, learn new things about yourself. and mature. I’d rather do it now than when I’m in the truck series or the Infinity series where there’s even more pressure on you.

Over the next two years, it will move up three levels, through Truck Racing, which takes place on Friday, to the Xfinity Series, which takes place on Saturday, to the NASCAR Cup races on Sunday.

Each level is different. The Menard Series ACAR cars made their debut as the previous generation, carbureted NASCAR racing cars with limited maximum rpm. A new standard Ilmor 396 V-8 engine and intake restrictors level the playing field. Truck racers are similar, but with a pickup-like body, a different “aerodynamic package”; The ignition and RPM limits of the Xfinity Cup car are higher. Power plants for all are similar, delivering 700 to 750 horsepower, but other key features, such as aerodynamics, ignition, tires and special settings, all treated as top secret, vary in performance.

The winning formula

With machines so different to drive, how does a driver continue to win?

Two things, as Father Jess, himself a former midget champion rider, said five years ago: comfort with speed and a special sense of space that cannot be learned. “It’s understanding,” he said, “they can fit a five-foot car into a five-foot hole.” At the time, he was talking about doing it at 60 mph. Now those are speeds approaching 190 mph.

“Sometimes I watch from the stands,” said Edge, driver relations manager. “I’m like ‘there’s no hole, he can’t go through, he’s stuck.’ And I’ll watch him throw his car into a hole I couldn’t even see.

Jesse has a particular driving style that he is perfectly comfortable with. “I like the brake pedal. I like the accelerator pedal. I do a lot of speed. I think the most important thing with my riding style is that I gain speed.

It takes a big team to field a car and an ARCA driver. Toyota and NAPA Auto Parts are sponsors. The owner of Car 16 is Bill McAnally Racing of Roseville, who has fielded several champions over the past three decades. Jesse also drove Venturini Motorsports’ 25 car last year.

Jesse has a regulated lifestyle that emphasizes health, fitness, learning, training, and practice.

A runner’s diet

It sounds like astronaut training or, as his father puts it, “creating an Olympic athlete”. Got up and in the gym around 8:30 am for an hour of workout. A trip to the Toyota Performance Center for meetings and time in the “sim,” the front half of a Toyota car in a dark video room that can realistically simulate any tracks it could run. Teams of engineers monitor the simulation to adjust the setup in real time and based on its performance as it learns the nuances of the track and the car.

After five or six hours at the performance center he is home, if he is not in high school via On Track, a K-12 accredited online school, many very young professionals training in many sports, then plotting the race of the week on paper.

“It’s become normal for me,” he said, “but it’s really cool when I go to new racetracks like Dover, Iowa, Gateway, Phoenix.

“When you go at higher speeds and you go on bigger racetracks, it all comes to you so fast and you get overwhelmed,” Jesse continued. “But over time things slow down and it’s more like a short track. It’s a really interesting dynamic. Being a racing driver is like nothing else, where you’re so close to that threshold of fear and speed and death and adrenaline and all that. It’s really cool and it’s something that I got used to.

At the end of all this preparation, the hubbub of the race, the concentration and the performance, there is a reward. A state of calm and joy. It’s “when you’ve won a race and have a lap to calm down. You don’t even feel like you’re in the car. You are so overwhelmed with emotion.

“I won the championship in Phoenix. Burnout on the track I grew up on – when I was 11 when you interviewed me – I was going from there to watch Alex Bowman, a mentor to me and a good friend. Just looking over there as a fan, a little guy, and you come over there four years later and win a championship, and you’re going to burn out in front of all these fans – that was probably the biggest. moment of, like, zen and calm I’ve ever felt in a race car.

It feels good to be a winner.

ARCA races are broadcast on NBCSN and streamed live on TrackPass. Details available at www.arcaracing.com.


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