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Racing toward greatness

JAMES BALL

Behind the wheel of a 250-pound, 14-foot chromoly chassis sporting a-5 horsepower Briggs and Stratton Raptor sits the unlikely figure of Eddie Mathot Jr.

What’s so unusual is that Eddie is 10 years old and has already made a name for himself on the NHRA-sponsored Junior Drag Racing League circuit.

From the porch of his Glenshire home, Eddie sits with Ed Sr. discussing the nuances of winning a race and the surge of power a racer feels when the light turns green.

“I like everything about it,” says Eddie Jr. “The adrenaline starts going.”

In his rookie season, Eddie has won several races, earned a couple of runner-up spots and even made it to the quarterfinals in a 32-car field at Sacramento last week.

Currently, he is ranked fifth in points among 30 drivers in his division.

Once or twice a month, Eddie Sr. trailers the car and drives his son to raceways around Sacramento to compete against other racers his age. So far, it has paid off for the Glenshire student who hopes to move on to bigger cars in the next year or two.

But don’t get the idea Dad might be pushing Eddie Jr. into a vicarious experience for himself. While he admits it is an affordable way to continue his hobby, it was, in fact, all Eddie Jr.’s idea to begin with.

“My Dad took me to a lot of races and I saw the cars and asked, ‘Dad, can I do that?’ but I was like 5 or 6 at the time, so he said, ‘Maybe in a couple of years,'” Eddie says.

In a couple of years, Eddie’s desire to race had not gone the way of most childhood whims; it had grown, so Ed Sr. signed his son up for driving school.

Though he would not be able to drive a motor vehicle for another eight years, 8-year-old Eddie learned the finer points of racing at a school in Las Vegas.

“I’ve been hooked ever since,” Eddie says.

Not to say Ed Sr. wasn’t able to provide a lot of tips to his son. Growing up on the East Coast, he got hooked on drag racing when he was 10, as well. It was his older brother who provided inspiration.

Ed raced competitively for 10 years, but now he expends most of the energy devoted to racing on his son. And perhaps his experience has led him to see that Eddie Jr. has the potential to advance his racing career successfully.

“I’d like to race bigger cars when I get older,” says Eddie, who looks up to racers like Kenny Bernstein and Joe Amato.

When asked what sort of racing he would like to do in the future, Eddie speaks with certainty. “Strictly drag racing,” he says.

All sorts of cars are raced on a multitude of circuits these days; everything from souped-up low-riding pickups to modified Chevys and Oldsmobiles, but Eddie’s car is a scaled-down version of the pure drag-racing machine used by the big guys.

And its relatively safe, says Ed Sr.

“The car has a six-point roll cage and a five-point aircraft racing harness.”

Ed’s also not too worried about Eddie getting hurt, stressing that racing is as safe as it has ever been.

“We’ve seen a few kids get in tangles at the track, but with all the safety gear they’ve got, it’s pretty hard to get hurt.”

Performance-wise, the cars have the pound-for-pound ability of their larger counterparts. Eddie’s car can do up to 45 mph in the eighth-mile, typically in less than 14.5 seconds.

Though the cost is relatively inexpensive (both Mathots refer to the $2,500 car as a “giant lawnmower”) it will cost more to move up as Eddie gets older and shows interest in alcohol cars.

“The faster you want to go, the more it will cost you,” Ed Sr. says.

And it could get more expensive as younger Mathots express interest in racing. Next year, Eddie’s brother, 7-year-old Scott, will take the reigns of Eddie’s drag car.

There aren’t many places in the Truckee area for Eddie to practice, so he says he usually practices at trial runs at the race venues. Still, he has received mentoring and tips from John Mathos at the Sacramento Speedway.

“He’s put a lot of time and effort into this car,” Eddie Jr. says.

Additionally, he is sponsored by Breakwater Village out of Point Judith, R.I. and Jersey Devil out of Marathon Key, Fla.

As any racer’s should be, Eddie’s goal for the future is simple: to win.

He describes a golden statue with a man standing beside a racing tire. The trophy is the OLLIE, the highest honor in his league.

Eddie knows he has made himself and his father proud. More importantly, it gives them a chance to spend time together, not always an easy task between father and son.

“It keeps my hobby going and gives me a chance to hang out with him at the track,” says Ed Sr.

In the immediate future, Eddie will finish out the season with five more points races before a banquet in November. There is a short break before racers take to the track again in January.

For now, Eddie keeps working toward an OLLIE and watching the greats like Bernstein and Amato zip down the track at speeds he can still only imagine.

Speaking like a sage, old man at the ripe age of 10, Eddie Jr. offers his brother some driving advice that speaks of experience: “keep it straight,” he says.

“That a boy,” says Ed Sr.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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