This will be “the week that was” in the young life of Lexi Wilson.
Wilson, 15, of Hamburg, N.Y., begins her sophomore year of high school Thursday, which probably includes a little anxiety that a first day of a high school year can bring. About 48 hours later, on Saturday night, she’s in the running to win her first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championship. There doesn’t seem to be a hint of anxiety about Saturday night. Whatever the outcome, as they say, “that’s racin’.”
Young Wilson was able to become a NASCAR driver thanks to NASCAR’s Learner’s Permit License that was introduced this year. The license allows closely observed 14 and 15-year-olds to compete in non-feature divisions at NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks.
The NASCAR racing rookie has become a phenomenon at Lake Erie Speedway, a short-track showcase in Erie, Pa., that includes a .375-mile paved oval as its main stage. Grandstands erupt with enthusiasm for her unusually well-developed aptitude behind the wheel, especially when she’s managed to beat her dad, Dave Wilson, for feature wins.
Lexi’s education and racing are strongly connected. As per dad’s rules, maintaining good grades keep his daughter’s racing program on track.
“I have to do well in school to be able to go racing,” Wilson said of her dad’s rules. “My grade average for the whole school year last year was 95 percent, and I’m taking some advanced classes. I want to get good grades during the week so I can go racing on the weekend.
“I set my goal in seventh grade to attend the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. I’m into graphic design, web design and computer arts. If I attend UNCC, I can be close to the Charlotte racing community, too.”
When her Lake Erie Speedway season is completed Saturday, the track’s weather-punctuated season will give Wilson only 11 starts, so her success is currently hidden in 51st place in the asphalt NASCAR Finalist Division III points standings. But a glance across the standings chart shows a strong racing performance.
In track points, she enters championship night as the NASCAR Street Stock division track points leader, 30 points ahead of her dad, Dave, in second and 45 points ahead of third-place Ryan Corso.
She has four wins and 11 top fives in 11 starts.
The new NASCAR Finalist national recognition program focuses on the divisions outside of the Feature Division at each NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track. Points are kept separately for dirt and asphalt tracks. A NASCAR-licensed driver’s best 14 finishes are counted toward their final points total for the year.
Each track in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series designates its top division as its Feature Division, and assigns its remaining divisions a designation of II, III, IV or V. The Finalist Program was established this season to recognize the drivers in those latter divisions.
Asphalt NASCAR Finalist Division leaders this week include Division II, Danny Johnson, Raceway Park in Shakopee, Minn.; Division III, Tommy Barrett, Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, Conn.; Division IV, Tim Hollen, Raceway Park; and Division V, Doug Schmitz, Raceway Park.
Dirt leaders entering this weekend include Division II Jesse Sobbing, I-80 Speedway, Greenwood, Neb.; Division III, Brad Derry, I-80 Speedway; Division IV, Pat Shiflett, Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa; and Division V, Andy Wilkinson, Junction Motor Speedway, McCool Junction, Neb.
Especially for her age, Wilson has extensive racing experience. Prior to 2010, she spent three years Bandolero racing and raced in several states including Indiana, Ohio, New York and North Carolina. In addition to Street Stock racing at Lake Erie Speedway this year, she expanded to compete in SST Modifieds at a .333-mile paved oval in Perry, N.Y., where she’s won several heat races and plans to enter a 100-lap event there on Labor Day weekend.
Dave also recently purchased a Late Model for Lexi to drive at Lake Erie Speedway in 2011. She becomes eligible for a full-fledged NASCAR Whelen All-American Series feature division license when she turns 16 on February 14 next year.
Dave began his own driving career on dirt tracks and eventually switched to asphalt. He’s the 2004 Street Stock division champion at Holland (N.Y.) International Speedway.
“Dad’s been going to Victory Lane since I was a kid,” Lexi said. “I never thought I’d get to drive race cars too. I know what people mean when they say once you start racing, there’s no stopping. We’ll always be racers.
”Dad stopped racing and started again, and I’m glad he did,” Lexi said. “Racing with him has been one of my great experiences. A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to race with their dad side by side, and it means a lot to me. He might keep racing Street Stocks next year, or he might retire again, but it’s been a great time.”
In addition to her father, Lexi’s D.J. Wilson Motorsports teammates include her mother, Angela, longtime crew chief Jason Dieter, Josh Schosek, and grandparents Kathy and Randy Taylor.
Sponsors include Wilson Crane Service, Scott Jarrell’s Reid’s Tires, T.W. Mechanical Services, Vic’s Auto Service and Abbott’s Small Engines.
She also had some on-track mentoring during practice sessions from Lake Erie Speedway’s 2006 Street Stock champion Terry Akerly, who now drives Late Models.
“He pushed me around some and that helped get me used to how it feels and how to drive through it,” Wilson said.
Like any rookie driver in a division full of veterans, racing with a lot of guys with a lot of experience can be intimidating, and it was for Lexi earlier this year. Her crew chief gave her some great advice.
“Jason said not to let the names of the guys I’m racing with bother me,” Wilson said. “He said to think of everyone on the track as just another driver.
“Now I have some confidence and I think I’ve been accepted on the track.” Wilson said. “They’re not racing against me as a 15-year-old girl anymore. I think they’re racing with me as if I’m ‘just another driver,’ and that’s cool.”