Schools get green flag to go racing

Schools get green flag to go racing

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McIntosh’s DeLayne Rotolo and Whitewater’s Hagen Clements take to the track in a test session for their newly-approved stock car racing teams, set to begin with official races early in 2017. (Photo by Christopher Fairchild)

Calling it a chance to offer more choices to students while also fulfilling their need for speed, the Fayette County Board of Education has approved adding stock car racing to its slate of extracurricular options starting next school year.

“This isn’t just an opportunity to expand our athletic selections, this is a chance to help our students compete while sharpening up life skills,” said board member Leonard Presberg, himself a diehard racing fan. “You get to learn teamwork, endurance, and strategy, all while honing your driving skills in the heat of competition.”

While it will still be standard stock car racing, it will be more like NASCAR on a smaller scale with speeds not topping 175 mph and races not topping 300 miles. Due to the ages of the drivers and a no alcohol rule at schools, there will also be no champagne-spraying celebrations in Victory Lane, instead they’ll pop Mentos into Diet Coke to soak the winning pit crew.

There will be a number of unique rules to set the sport apart from other high school options. Most notably, it will be a coed sport where the boys and girls will directly compete.

“The bottom line is that the gender of the driver does not matter, what matters is the horses under the hood,” said Whitewater athletic director Mike Vena. “I’m really excited to get our boys and girls working together for one goal in the garage, in the pits, and out on the track.”

There will also be a clear delineation between the varsity and junior varsity squads. You will need a full driver’s license to compete on the varsity level. If you’re still on a learner’s permit, you’re headed for JV, and your coach will be riding shotgun out on the track.

“Safety is first and foremost for our students,” said Presberg. “If the state hasn’t determined they’re ready to drive out on the roads by themselves yet, then obviously they still need supervision on the track.”

Facilities will have work to do to be ready to race in time for the season that will kick off when students return from winter break at the start of 2017. Schools will be able to use their current auto shops to serve as the garage for the race teams, but the biggest change will come for the track itself. In order to allow for higher speed racing, the current track and field tracks will be modified with banking added to the turns. While it will take some getting used to for the track stars, it should ultimately help shave some time off their scores as well. Victory Lane and pit row will need to be paved on the edges of the football field. High fencing will also need to be added for the safety of spectators, but that had already been in the works to keep rowdy McIntosh-Starr’s Mill crowds at bay.

“We’ve got work to really be ready in time for the green flag to drop on the first real race, but I can’t wait to get there,” said McIntosh AD Stacey Smith, who has also pitched the idea of paving the cross country trail for future road course style races. “I can’t wait to see the crowd that comes out when we battle Starr’s Mill in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Battle of the Bubble 300.”

A number of testing sessions were run as something of a taste test to get interest up among students. Two potential drivers were quick to give their approval.

“I love softball and basketball, but I just couldn’t pass up the chance to get behind the wheel of this McIntosh, Golf Rider, Paschal’s Bistro, Plumyumi Day Spa number five Chevy SS,” said McIntosh’s multi-sport star DeLayne Rotolo, who is set to add race car driver to her resume. “My hat’s off to the crew in auto shop. They really had me a great car out there.”

Even in a warmup, the racing was intense.

“DeLayne and I traded a little paint out there, but rubbin’ is racin’. I just can’t wait to really drop the hammer on this Whitewater, Downtown Scoops, Trading Post, Play It Again Sports number fifteen Toyota Camry next year,” said Whitewater’s Hagen Clements, who will have to decide between midfield of the soccer pitch and the oval of the race track.

Dr. Joseph Barrow, superintendent of the Fayette County School System, says it’s the first time a school in Georgia, and perhaps even the United States, has offered stock car racing.

“If you ain’t first, you’re last,” Barrow said.

[Editor’s note: April Fool’s]

Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.