Driver finds Formula (500) for success in auto racing
More than 100 miles from the nearest race track or practice facility, one would probably think that Truckee would make a poor home base for an automobile road racer.
But the town’s remoteness hasn’t handicapped Formula 500 series driver Jay England, 26, who leads the San Francisco Regional Road Racing points race with only three events remaining in the 14 race series.
“Living in Truckee’s not a big issue for me right now,” Jay said. “Most of the other drivers are in the same economic class as myself. Even if they live closer to the track, they probably don’t have the money for track time or tires, so it’s not a disadvantage.”
Formula 500 cars, which have 100 horsepower engines that propel cars at speeds up to 130 mph, resemble scaled down, open-wheeled Indy-cars. Formula 500 races are about 40 miles long and last approximately 30 minutes. Race courses on the Formula 500 series include Sears Point in Sonoma, Laguna Seca in Monterey and Thunderhill Raceway in Willows.
“The Formula 500 is the entry level for road races,” Jay said. “The races are amateur and can be a stepping-stone to move up in racing.”
Jay’s success in Formula 500 has come quickly. He (along with his father Bruce) went through the Russell School of Driving at Laguna Seca together two years ago and, after graduating from the Sports Car Club of America Driving School in March 1996, went on to place third in the San Francisco Regional points race for the ’96 season. Out of his 11 races this season, England has won three races, including two at Sears Point.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to race cars, but I was never able to put together enough money,” Jay said. “My father and I had planned to get into racing by buying a car together and then switching off drivers every other race.”
“But at the first race where it was his turn to drive, I knew I couldn’t sit and watch,” England said. “I bought the car from him – then he bought a better car.”
Despite being competitors on the track, the tandem continues to help each other off the race course.
“It’s tough to help someone beat you,” England said. “But the entire group of Formula 500 drivers has become a tight group – we even eat dinner together before races.”
The father/son venture into auto racing isn’t the duo’s first experience in motor sports. Bruce helped Jay become involved in motocross racing during his childhood, a sport Jay continued to participate in through age 25.
“I was heavy into motocross racing and had quite a few wins, but I hurt my knee pretty bad,” Jay said. “When you turn 25 in motocross, you’re probably washed-up, anyway.”
Bruce, who’s also having an excellent season with a top-five ranking in the region, isn’t the only other England family member who’s become involved in auto racing. Jay’s wife, Anne, can be seen at the track each race preparing the car for the race and communicating information to Jay via a pit board during the race. Jay’s mother, Judy, is in charge of checking tire pressure, and Jay’s co-workers, Cooper Stubbs and Jim Ahle, can also be found assisting in the pits.
Anne met Jay while both were working at Squaw Valley (Jay admits he moved to Truckee seven years ago because of the skiing); they now have a 13-month-old son, Nicolas.
“I grew up around motorsports as my family worked the medical stations for motorcycle races,” Anne said. “At first, I didn’t know anything, but I’ve learned a lot; it’s my job to tell Jay his lap times, his position and the intervals of time between the car ahead and behind him.”
Anne said that she isn’t overly concerned about Jay’s safety during a race because she’s seen firsthand the durability of the Formula 500 cars.
“I saw Jay fly over a pile of tires and he walked away with just a bruise on his arm,” Anne said. “The chance of injuries doesn’t worry me as much now, because I’ve seen how safe his car is.”
Jay said the moment a driver starts thinking about the potential for injury is usually the same time that the driver gets hurt.
“I think that racing is as safe as walking across the street,” Jay said. “You can be the safest guy in the world, yet still get hurt or sick.”
Jay is frank when he talks about the expensive nature of auto racing. With yearly expenses for entry fees, fuel, tires and parts about $10,000 and cars starting at $7,000, Jay admits that one must have both driving and business skills to attract sponsorships in order to participate in auto racing.
“It’s unfortunate that in today’s auto racing that people don’t always see the best talent – you’re seeing the good drivers who are also good salesmen,” Jay said. “Part of the resume of any driver today is that they have to work with sponsors.”
Jay said he has been fortunate to acquire local sponsorships from Alpine Office Machines and SIFE Investments. He is also sponsored by Red Line Oil and Thin Air Motorsports, where he is owner.
Although at 26 he says he is probably too old to advance to the Indy car circuit, Jay would like to advance to the F2000 series next year. The F2000 series, a professional series which awards prize money, would cost an estimated $30,000 to $50,000 for Jay to participate in.
“It all comes down to funding,” Jay said. “A driver who makes it to the Indy car circuit is a hell of a driver and has a lot of funding. Drivers can’t make it off the purse from races anymore, they have to make it from sponsorship.”
If Jay doesn’t advance to the Indy car circuit as a driver, he hopes to one-day make it to the circuit in another position – as an owner.
“That is my ultimate goal, to own a CART team,” Jay said. “I’d like to have my own team and learn to cultivate a driver. I’m finding out, though, that I have a lot to learn, even at this level of racing.”
Even if Jay’s dream of competing in Indy cars doesn’t come to fruition, there’s always the chance Nicolas might become involved in racing.
“I’m not going to force it on him, but I’d like the opportunity to be available for my son to race,” Jay said.
For information on Formula 500 auto racing, call 582-8081.
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Students from North Tahoe and Truckee recently made the trip to Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley to compete in the annual Kays Ostrom Invitational.