JAMESTOWN — Some people are just born with it.
For Nick Snell, that was more than evident the first time he got behind the wheel of a go-kart. Driving a used kart his dad, Eric, purchased on Craig’s List, Snell, then just 5-years-old, maneuvered his way through a makeshift track on the Greeneview High School parking lot like a seasoned veteran, not a preschooler.
“It turns out I’m really good at it. It was a lot funner than I thought it would be,” said Snell, now an 11-year-old sixth grade student at Greeneview Middle School. He entered a couple races and “did really good.”
“Just kept going from there,” Snell said. He graduated from go-karts to racing mini late models on dirt tracks and now is a finalist in an online competition to win a $50,000 racing sponsorship from Champion. Voting runs through Friday, March 23 at http://sfac.championautoparts.com/entry/1980.
Around 2,000 entered the contest, which has been whittled down to the top 30, who are guaranteed a $500 sponsorship for a year, while the top-10 finishers receive $5,000. The winner will be announced in April. As of March 20 Snell — one of the youngest, if not the youngest in the contest — was to top-viewed dirt track racer and the No. 2 viewed overall.
Currently without a sponsor, any money would help as Snell prepares to move up to full-sized cars in the dirt modified class, featuring V-8 engine with 450 horsepower.
“We could travel more,” Eric Snell said. “There are big money races down south.”
Even if he doesn’t win the grand prize, Snell’s meteoric ascent in the sport is more than noteworthy.
In his first full season in 2013, he won 28 of 34 races with the Ohio Valley Karting Association. He ran 16 races in the Great Lakes Sprint Series, grabbing the pole four times, winning eight times and setting a track record at Pitt International in Pennsylvania. After finishing third in points he was named the most improved kid kart driver.
The next year Snell won 36 times in three series including the Kid Kart Nationals, where he almost won the previous year. Snell was the 2014 Great Lakes Sprint Series Champion as well as the Manufactures Cup Champion. He won all 18 races he entered in the Ohio Valley Karting Association series including four in the upper rookie class and was a three-time national champion.
In 2015 Snell won a pair of Comer Rookie heats and the final at the Daytona International Speedway kart track, finishing first for the weekend. He was second overall in the Yamaha Rookie at Daytona.
He eventually made the jump to the dirt ovals where he beat a field of adults in his first mini late model race.
“We went to a little track in North Carolina just to try it and I ended up being really good at it,” Snell said.
Snell won three more last year with a 600 cc motorcycle engine, but the class didn’t grow like he and Eric were hoping so he moved up to the dirt modified for this season, set to begin soon.
“We’re really fast forwarding into the full-sized car,” Eric Snell said.
Snell is the youngest in his class in American Motor Racing Association Sport Mods, which features all adults and one teen.
But he is undaunted as he continues to climb the ranks.
“I want to go somewhere with it,” he said. “As high as I can. NASCAR would be nice. If I could, I’d do it on dirt.”
Eric Snell, who used to race and has built his son’s cars and engines, wouldn’t mind seeing Nick continue his current dirt path.
“A lot of people make a living racing on dirt,” he said. “He’s just got a raw talent. It’s not going to be easy. (But) we’ve got years to figure things out.”
Based on his track record, Nick Snell has already figured out a lot.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.