3 generations of short-track racers share common themes
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Sixteen-year-old Trever Taylor admits that he has missed out on many of the typical teenage experiences, such as a recent homecoming dance, because of his love of short-track racing.
“It’s the ultimate high,” he said, gazing out at Volusia Speedway Park. “You feel so free.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is David Rogers, a 62-year-old national short-track champion, who has lost count of how many starts he’s made and wins he’s collected over the years.
“It takes an extreme toll on your family life,” he said recently, pushing his lunch around a plate in an Osteen diner. “I don’t race as much as I used to, but gosh, in those early days, I’d race 104 times a year, you know, twice a weekend.
“I didn’t have no real time for my family. They all knew that going in. This is part of my life.”
Somewhere in between Taylor and Rogers sits Scott Lagasse Jr., 36, who is on the verge of getting a NASCAR Xfinity Series ride.
He has made six starts this season, three for Richard Childress Racing, and the phone has been ringing.
“It’s a tough deal,” said Lagasse, who spent his childhood racing on Central Florida short tracks. “It’s more business than I ever imagined it would be. I won races on the way up, but I never understood the economics of the sport.”
These three local drivers, in various stages of competition, all have a similar story to tell. Racing is tough, in most cases takes you away from family, eats up your time and costs a lot of money.
And, they would not have it any other way.
“Speed is such an adrenaline rush,” Taylor said. “It’s hard to put into words. When I started to race, it exceeded all expectations.”
You may think Trever Taylor, a junior at Apopka High School, is just beginning his racing career. You would be wrong.
He has been racing since he was knee-high to his grandfather, Leo Taylor.
“He’s doing good, but I think he’ll get a lot better,” Grandpa Taylor said outside the gates of VSP in Barberville.
Trever races a Florida Late Model dirt machine that features a 500-horsepower engine capable of reaching 100 mph on Volusia’s half-mile dirt oval.
Driving a race car is second nature to the well-spoken teen. He started racing quarter-midgets at Little New Smyrna Speedway at age 5.
He moved up to an asphalt class called Bandelaros at age 9. When he turned 12, his family put him behind the wheel of a real brute, a Late Model dirt machine.
After he graduates, Trever said he plans to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and father as linemen for a power company.
“And, hopefully, keep racing,” he quickly adds.
Taylor believes he could have a career in racing, if the right opportunity arose.
“With my skills, I think I could make a living in racing,” he said recently. “But everybody knows racing is all about money and who has the money.
“We don’t have funds to go as far as we’d like. Maybe someone would come along and offer us a ride in a car. Yeah, I would make a career out of that.”
Trever is third in Florida Late Model Series points. The series crisscrosses the state from Tampa to VSP to Lake City.
“We travel all over,” Trever said. “It’s giving me the opportunity to run at different tracks, which are new to me. While we are running for the state championship, we run Volusia as much as we can.”
Standing alongside Trever and Leo was Charles Taylor, the driver’s father.
“I believe he does have the talent to move up,” Charles said. “The problem is, there are hundreds of drivers just like him.
“You just got to have that money to race at the upper levels. This is all the money we can afford right now, at this level.”
The Taylor family bought Trever’s car for about $14,000. So-called “crate engines” cost between $5,000 and $7,000 and will last a season. Race tires run between $150 and $200 — for each tire.
“We buy a set of tires every two races,” Trever said.
On a regular racing night (practice, qualifying heat, final event), the car will burn 15 to 20 gallons of high-octane fuel, which costs about $70.
“Fixing sheet metal, getting body damage is the worst,” he said. “When you start wrecking, it can get real pricey. We have beat the mess outta this car.”
As Trever Taylor chases the checkered flag, he is also chasing a long-shot dream of moving up to the professional level and making a living as a race driver.
“I don’t know. We will see,” his father said. “Hopefully, that opportunity comes for Trever. Maybe, one day.”
Been there, done that
Rogers is nothing short of a local racing legend.
He started racing in the mid-1970s as a teenager and over the last four decades has become a local icon in the sport.
He is a fan favorite at New Smyrna Speedway, where he races the No. 11 TM Ranch Super Late Model on a regular basis.
“Over the years I’ve probably won 600 or 700 races, and crashed that many times, too,” he said with a laugh.
Despite his love for the sport, Rogers acknowledges the dangers inherent with driving, especially at smaller tracks.
“I got hurt really bad at (Orlando) SpeedWorld back in 2004,” he said recalling a crash more than a decade ago. “I got turned into the wall and hit left side (driver’s side). It was a bad wreck.
“They hauled me off and I had severe bruises on my brain, crushed my left shoulder, knocked a tooth out, I broke seven ribs. I was in intensive care for three or four days with swelling on the brain.”
Since the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001, the safety devices instituted by NASCAR have filtered their way down to the lower-level tracks. Now, nearly every young driver has a HANS Device and a safety seat in their car.
The wreck didn’t stop Rogers from racing. When he was healthy, he got right back into his Super Late Model.
Rogers reached an important peak in 1994 when he was crowned NASCAR national short-track champion after a nearly flawless season of racing at Volusia Speedway Park. VSP was paved in those days.
Despite that success, the offers from NASCAR teams didn’t pour in because, as Rogers says, the car owners’ mindset had “flipped” from racing experience to youth.
Car owner Rick Hendrick started the trend when he hired 21-year-old Jeff Gordon to drive his No. 24 NASCAR Cup Series car in 1993.
Gordon won two races the following season, the Cup championship in 1995 and became the poster child for the young-drivers-can-win mindset in NASCAR’s marquee series.
“In 1994 at the age of 39, I was too old,” Rogers said. “Jeff Gordon made the whole thing flip. I had bad timing. When I was 20 I was too young for Cup. I won a lot of races in my 20s.”
Rogers’ NASCAR record shows five Xfinity Series starts between 1982 and ’92. His best finish was ninth at Charlotte Motor Speedway in ’82, fielding his own car.
“I never really raced because I wanted to go into NASCAR Cup racing,” said Rogers, who owns a car dealership in Orlando. “I had some opportunities, but the cards didn’t fall for me. But it wasn’t devastating. I love racing. I love doing what I do, what I’ve done for 40 years.”
Rogers has been at this so long that he has a dedicated race shop across from his dealership and enjoys a sustainable sponsorship deal.
Money, he says, is relative.
“It’s a broad spectrum,” he said. “Depends on how you do it. You could relate it to golf. Anybody can go to Goodwill and buy used clubs and play on a municipal course. Not that much money, right?
“The next guy might want the best new clubs on the market and pay a professional golfer to train him and go play Pebble Beach. So, yeah, you can go low or high. I got a lot of equipment and it only costs me a few hundred dollars to race on weekends.”
Rogers, who raced against drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Sr. in countless Carolina short-track events, flirted with a few big-time race deals, but never really got the chance to showcase his talents.
“I never made the sacrifices he made,” Rogers said referring to Earnhardt. “I didn’t leave my family’s car business in Orlando and move to North Carolina and try to get that ride.”
Caught in the middle
Scott Lagasse Jr. spent a decade in the Charlotte, North Carolina area knocking on doors and trying to build his NASCAR national series career.
He has returned to live in his native St. Augustine with wife Kelley and their nearly 3-year-old daughter, Emelia.
Lagasse, who battled colon cancer in 2015, spends his off time rebuilding his grandfather’s house in the “Nation’s Oldest City.”
Lagasse, who is the son of Scott Lagasse (Rick Hendrick’s first NASCAR Truck Series driver), has made 67 Xfinity, 27 Truck Series and 13 ARCA starts since 2001.
He secured a four-race Xfinity Series deal with Richard Childress Racing to wheel the No. 3 Chevrolet this season.
He has posted starts at Iowa, Mid-Ohio, Road America and will top off the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I race for a living and it’s all sponsor driven,” Lagasse said. “These four races I got from RCR were because Ty Dillon could not run them and things happened to work out really good for me.”
Lagasse said he plans to make a few starts in his dirt car at Volusia Speedway Park once the NASCAR season closes out.
He says he is on the cusp of a driving job next year, but would not offer many details.
“It’s crazy how this sport works,” he said. “My name has circled back into the Cup Series world now. I had a deal a few years ago, and then the economy went sour and the team went away.
“It’s amazing what one race will do to get the buzz going back in the right direction.”
Lagasse has been chasing the chance to wheel a quality machine in one of NASCAR’s national series for more than a decade.
“I’ve got a team that is looking for sponsorship to have me be their driver full-time,” he said. “I’ve talked to a couple different NASCAR Xfinity Series teams and a pretty decent Cup team. I don’t know what will happen.”
He said the dilemma for many drivers is this — if you find sponsorship money, do you use it to run a handful of races with a big-name team, or stretch it out hoping a team owner will recognize your talent behind the wheel of inferior equipment.
“You have to judge your reputation vs. seat time,” Lagasse said. “It’s a very hard thing to manage.”
While Lagasse would not talk about dollar specifics, it is well known that primary Xfinity sponsors pay teams $100,000 to $150,000 per race. At the Cup Series level, it is twice that amount.
“The economy changed our sport in 2008; things changed in our sport,” Lagasse said. “I’m getting more phone calls now than I used to get. Money is the tough part of our sport, because it costs a lot to run at any division.”
He said friendships and relationships he has made along the way have helped him get to the doorstep of a 2018 deal.
Lagasse is amazed at the support he has been receiving from different people in the industry.
“I’ve been frustrated with how things how gone; the last few years have been tough,” he said. “It’s been interesting because some of the crew chiefs I have worked with, guys at the Cup level now, have stuck their neck out and put in a good word for me.
“That’s kept my (career) alive and it’s been humbling to say the least. I’ve had some guys who have stepped up for me and that’s not a normal thing in this sport.”
Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com