By: Kyle Taraska – Berkeley College Student, Business Management
Driver of the #16 Berkeley College TQ Midget for Spitfire Racing
My Motorsports Background
For me, racing is not only my favorite sport, my favorite hobby, or even just my favorite thing to do; it is my lifestyle. I was introduced to the sport, particularly NASCAR, at a very young age. My father became a fan by watching the sport on ABC’s Wide World of Sports back in the day, and would eventually attend his first race at the former Trenton Speedway. It is safe to say that he has successfully passed on his passion to me.
As for me, I attended my first NASCAR race at the age of seven. It was the NASCAR Busch Grand National race at Dover International Speedway in Delaware. To attend a motorsports event live in person, there is nothing else in the world like it. There is some sort of aura to the smelling combination of high octane fuel and burning rubber flowing through the air. When the pack of cars race by, the grandstands literally shake – it is absolutely surreal. Whatever questions I had about what I wanted to do when I grew up heading into that Saturday afternoon in June 2001, they were successfully answered by the drop of the green flag.
Why I Love it
I feel like I owe my life to racing. I have been blessed to have been granted so many opportunities within this industry that I love. It feels like the gift that keeps on giving. Whether it be the bond that my father and I maintain through the sport, the friendships that have been created, or the memories that have been made, I can honestly say some of the best days of my life have been spent at racetracks across the country. Even on some of my worst days at the track, I would never consider trading any of those in at the expense of the great days that I have had.
Getting Behind the Wheel
It is extremely difficult to get started in racing. You need a lot of talent, a lot of patience, and a lot of money. Depending on who you ask, my “talent” may be in question (haha), I know I am a very impatient person, and my money certainly does not grow on trees. But seriously, the fact that I have even had the opportunity to race is remarkable in its own regard.
Since that Saturday afternoon in Dover, Delaware almost 20 years ago, I knew the only thing I ever wanted to do was race. How could I make it happen? It is not like you can walk into a sporting goods shop and buy a racecar the same way you can buy a baseball bat or a football.
If there is one person that I can circle who really set the mark to allow me the opportunity to race, it is my buddy Scott Stenzel. Scott is a racecar driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Scott and I befriended each other while sim racing together many years back. To this day he has become one of my best friends and he has really made a positive impact on my life, and for that, I will forever be grateful.
In 2014, Scott introduced me to his agent Charlie Patterson. Charlie has been working in the motorsports industry for decades and has experienced great success in his trade as he has represented some of the racecar industry’s greatest. Charlie was the guy that really got in my head and influenced me to pursue a career behind the wheel.
By the end of 2014, I experienced my first laps in a real race car with the Green Flag Driving Experience at Wall Stadium Speedway. From there, owner Gary Conkling and his son Brett, with whom I am still friends today, really took me under their wings and helped me earn the breakthrough I needed in order to strap in and race.
Turning Dreams into Reality
My ticket to racing for real was behind a Three Quarter (TQ) Midget. The name of the division in which I now compete is the American Three Quarter Midget Racing Association (ATQMRA). The ATQMRA is AWESOME. The people within it are some of the nicest you will ever meet. Racing in this series allows us to travel all across the northeast, and there is so much history in our series I wouldn’t even know where to begin. These cars are the real deal, too. We race with motorcycle, 750CC engines that produce about 150 horsepower. With the driver (that’s me) sitting in them, the cars only weigh about 850 pounds.
How do I know these cars are not a joke?
The first time I practiced, I flipped… quite a few times.
I felt like the dream was over in November of 2015. I had a really bad wreck where I tumbled multiple times down the front stretch at Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey. It was scary, surreal, and depressing. I thank God every day for watching over me and keeping me safe, and I am thankful for all of my safety equipment doing its job. However, it was a close call for sure.
I raced for my former team owner, Blu, for about two years. Fred Delibero and Greg Sutton deserve a shout out as well. After all, the car I raced for all of last year was owned by “Fast Freddy.” We had some good runs, including my first career top-5 finish last September. Blu ultimately gave me another chance after I wrecked his car the first time, which is something I will never forget. However, prior to the beginning of this season, Blu terminated his agreement with me to race this year without any prior warning. This was a very difficult time in my life (also something I will never forget). Here I was again, I had worked for what felt like my entire life to get to this point, and after a phone call it was gone. The racing business sure does know how to play with your emotions.
My Second Chance
As they say, one door closes and another one opens. Colin Martin is the owner of Spitfire Racing, a team that competes in the ATQMRA. The team has a lot of great history in the series, winning multiple races and championships.
Colin saved my career. He stepped up in one of my life’s darkest moments and offered me a ride in his car.
For him to take a chance on a kid like me, after we only formally met about two months prior to this opportunity, speaks a lot about who he is as a person. I owe a world of gratitude to him to say the least.
By the way; we won our first time out racing together in our qualifier and finished fifth later that night in the feature race.
And it is not only Colin. Two people that always come to mind when thinking about racing are Jeff Kot and Josh Williams. Jeff and I race together in the ATQMRA, Josh is another one of my best friends. Both of them have helped guide me in the right direction, answered all of my annoying questions, and kept my head on straight. Jeff is actually responsible for designing my Berkeley College firesuit!
John Smith and Mike Glaser are two other individuals who I’ve befriended while racing for my former team prior to Spitfire. Mike and I were actually teammates and raced against each other! However, these two are the real masterminds that allow me to race today. They sacrifice family time to help me take care of the car on and off the track. I can never express my appreciation enough to either of these two. John and Mike are some of the many remarkable people I have met through this racing lifestyle.
Whether it be Buddy Sload, Dave Gorbatuk, BJ MacDonald, or my friends and family (especially my girlfriend Megan!!), there have been so many people who help me make it to the track each weekend, and I wouldn’t be here without them. There are so many more people that I have failed to mention.
Learn more about the ATQMRA: http://atqmra.com/
Come see me race (Wall Stadium events): http://atqmra.com/schedule/