No respect. That’s what it must feel like to drive a hornet or sport compact race car. It seems like someone is always bashing the 4-cylinder class. When you consider the recent rise in gas prices it is very possible that the smartest thing to do is switch to one of these economic cars.
I have nothing against this class at all. I am of the opinion that they are just as much race car drivers as anyone else. They show up every week, usually on their own dime, and do their best to put on a show. If you think they are out there lollygagging around half-heartedly not trying – you’re mistaken.
I asked former hornet driver and current IMCA modified driver Alex Yohn about his days in the hornet class. Yohn made the move up from hornets to b-mods where he had a great deal of success and then made the move to IMCA modifieds where he has proven himself to be very fast.
“It’s a complete different group of people, but I believe it was just as competitive if not more. You’re still doing the same basic things; trying to figure out little secrets and trying to make it faster just like anything else.”
Yohn made the comparison from the driver’s seat as well, “It’s the same thing - you slide in to a corner and try to get traction. It’s the same basic concept.”
The hornet classes are a way to get started for many drivers including IMCA modified driver Alex Hansen, who was Jr. Hornet track champion in 2005 at I-35 Speedway in northern Iowa.
Hansen told me, “When we started [hornets] we had no idea we were gonna come this far. We were just doing it because we thought it was fun. The group of kids I was racing with – it was tough to win each week.”
There is not much you can do with a hornet as far as set-up. Hornet driver Matt Baker from Crystal Lake, Iowa told me, “It’s just basically tire pressure and tire size the only thing we are allowed to do.”
Baker has had the chance to drive a ‘regular’ race car and made this comparison. “You step on the gas on those and they actually want to turn left. You step on the gas on these and they just want to push you off the track.”
Baker told me about an encounter with stock car driver Jeff Dolphin, who has also driven the front wheel drive cars. “He drove one of these and he said they are the hardest things to drive. They’re front wheel drive – they do nothing but push. They don’t steer like a stock car so it takes a lot more patience and technique to figure out how to get them through the turn.”
Baker has his sights set higher than the hornets.
“I really would like to get a stock car. That class is full of a bunch of guys that are really experienced. That’s how I learn what I know. I raced the Birkhoffer brothers, Jeremy Cornwall - all the really good drivers that taught me a lot. I’d like to go in to a class where I can learn something from a lot of experienced drivers.”
The class is not free. Pro hornet driver Daniel Porter put it this way. “Everything costs money. If you wreck a bunch of stuff, yeah you’re gonna spend the money. It depends on what you’re driving and how easy you can get the parts.”
According to Porter, the most important part of being a success is finesse. “It’s your driving style. You don’t have to have the biggest motor out there to run out front. If your gonna drive like an idiot then you’re not going to get anywhere. The more strategy and the smoother you are – the faster.”
Next year fans may see a 17 year old Porter behind the wheel of a hobby stock as he continues to challenge himself and move up through the ranks. “I started in a junior hornet and this is my first year in pro. My car, I can run either class, so it was just my own decision to run the bigger class. You know, I ended up winning 11 of 19 races last year so I felt it was a challenge to me to run the bigger class.”
Sometimes the biggest challenge to racing is simply money. That does not change at all throughout the classes. You can just add a few zeros or take one away depending on the class.
First year driver Richard Groscinski told me, “Every week the challenge is having the money to come to the pits, I pay for it out of my own pocket. I don’t have any sponsors.”
Groscinski added, “Toughest part… If I break something on the car I pay for it.”
For Patrick Barrett, hornet racing was an opportunity to do something he had dreamed about for a very long time – ever since going to his first race in Nashua, Iowa 44 years ago when he was only 10 years old. “Ever since I was a kid I wanted to race, but never had the money until now.”
If you really watch this class you will see some excellent side by side racing. Fifteen year old novice hornet driver Tucker Schroeder summed it all up this way. “I think that we put on the best show really, because the mods, when they get going… sometimes it’s kind of like follow the leader after 10 laps or so.”
The hornet classes can be very exciting to watch. If you ask any of them what they think about people saying they are not real racers you get the same answer across the board. “I’d like to see them come out and do it.”
I talked with quite a few of the drivers including the ones quoted above as well as Ken Winkowitsch and Nate Coopman. All of them admit to having a blast and giving it their all every week. They may not be turning the same lap times as some of the other classes, but they can get close. And they may be having a little more fun. It looks like fun to me.
“It’s a riot. I mean… its racing!” – Patrick Barrett.
Do yourself a favor and get to know the drivers in these often times overlooked classes. Get to know them and you will realize they are the same as any other driver out there. They bring their heart and soul to their class like any other driver. You’ll probably find them all hanging out in a group.
I wish them all continued success in the hornet classes and I am excited to see who moves up and tries other types of cars. Good luck!
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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