Less than ten months ago A.J. Allmendinger had never driven a racecar. Yet within the space of those ten months, the 19 year-old from Hollister California has been driving one with the acumen of a seasoned veteran. This weekend at Road America,...
Less than ten months ago A.J. Allmendinger had never driven a racecar. Yet within the space of those ten months, the 19 year-old from Hollister California has been driving one with the acumen of a seasoned veteran. This weekend at Road America, the protégé of Champ Car star Paul Tracy will make his second professional start in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. Racing though is nothing new to Allmendinger.
"I started racing BMX as a kid and was pretty good at that. But when I turned 9, I wanted something with a motor. All that pedaling made my legs tired," he says with a laugh.
So he made the jump to quarter midgets and then go-karts and began winning nearly everything in sight. He soon caught the attention of Tracy, who signed him onto his karting team and has taken Allmendinger under his wing. The karting skills however stood on their own, and it earned Allmendinger a spot in the in the 2001Barber-CART Karting Scholarship Runoffs. Sixteen karters from across the country converged on Sebring International Raceway in February, gunning for four scholarships to the Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Championship Presented by RACER, the Official National Amateur Championship of CART. Over two days, Allmendinger shone, handedly winning one of the four coveted Barber-CART Karting Scholarships.
Since the National Championship season began in late April, Allmendinger has been a force. Though he has yet to win a race in the first 8 of 13 rounds, he has managed a podium finish in six. The consistency made him the point's leader up until the last round at Putnam Park earlier this month. Much of the second half of the season hangs in the balance and Allmendinger intends to get his title lead back and become CART's first ever National Amateur Champion. With the title will come another prize in the form of the Barber-CART Formula Dodge National Champion Scholarship which entitles the winner to full ride in the 2002 Barber Dodge Pro Series.
The string of strong performances led Allmendinger with support from Tracy to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 12 for his professional racing debut. In spite of his race ending prematurely after contact with the outside wall at the notorious turn-11, Allmendinger raised some eyebrows, and for all the right reasons. He'd never driven the challenging, sinuous course and only had one two-day test in the Barber Dodge Reynard, yet he finished nearly every session with a time in the Top-10. He'd qualified ninth and was dicing for position when his race ended abruptly three-quarters of the way through lap-5.
"I got to turn-11 and was having some trouble downshifting. By the time I got in gear I was already too high and got over the curb and onto the grass which just sucked me into the wall," said Allmendinger. "I wish I could have raced more I know I could have finished seventh or better. The whole weekend went great right up until the end. I learned a lot and that's the most important thing."
Out of the car his insouciance and cockiness is endearing rather than off-putting. Much like Tracy, he enjoys life -all fun and games. But once he dons his helmet and gloves it's all business. The result at Mid-Ohio was crushing. Yet the defeat lasted only a few hours, and then it was back to his jovial self with thoughts of the next race at Road America.
"When I hit the wall, I was really disappointed. It wasn't so much for the lack of a result as it was for the financial damage. I went into the weekend not being able to afford to damage the car. Afterward I talked to Paul and he said, 'Hey don't worry about it. It's part of racing. Let's get onto the next race, and we'll find a way to make it work,'" recounted Allmendinger.
His relationship with Tracy is a good one he claims on account that they are both alike. Tracy is both a source of confidence as well as knowledge for Allmendinger as he begins his climb up the Barber-CART Ladder.
"It's great having him on my side. The week before Mid-Ohio he called to see how I was doing and he came over to the Barber Dodge paddock to check on me. It really helps to know that he has the confidence in me to do this and to help me where he can," says Allmendinger.
And what of the day when Allmendinger finds himself on the Champ Car grid racing against Tracy?
"It would be great. To be in a Champ Car and to race with him would be a dream come true." He continues, "I would try to pick his brain to learn everything I could, then I'd go out and beat him."