Bumper cars, go-karts, stock cars, NASCAR the thrill of driving has inspired dozens of fun pastimes as well as sports. Sixteen-year-old Starpoint High School junior Jake Stefanski has a lot of experience with these kinds of things his racing career began at just 7 years old.
"My dad wanted to put me in go-karts," Jake said, "and with [his] side of the family revolving around racing, it was going to happen sooner or later."
Racing nights at Ransomville Speedway are family events, as both Jake and his younger brother Cameron participate in the races. Jim Stefanski, Jake's dad, is his crew chief and part car owner along with Jake's uncle, Pete Stefanski. Jake's dad and uncle co-own PJ NFB Auto Car and Trailer Sales in North Tonawanda.
After several years of excelling in the go-kart division and six championship wins, Jake took on a new challenge, the streetstock division.
"The biggest difference between the streetstock I'm in now and the go-karts I used to race is definitely the weight difference and weight transfer," Jake said. "The go-kart only weighed about 350 [pounds] with me in it, but the streetstock weighs 3,100 pounds. So it's a lot different than the go-karts."
In the higher division, Jake is one of the youngest racers. Most of the participants are usually anywhere from 20 to 35 years old.
The racing became much harder, and Jake, who was used to winning, wasn't winning anymore. Toward the beginning of the season, Jake suffered an engine blow, a bad transmission and other car malfunctions. However, more practice enhanced Jake's natural talent and after almost four months, he won his first streetstock event.
"When I won, it was almost unbelievable for me. In the interview on the racetrack, I was speechless," Jake said. "It was a really great feeling seeing my dad, mom and sponsors so happy for me. It helped my confidence a lot."
The big win really helped improve Jake's confidence in the car, and he continued to improve. On Sept. 18, Jake came in fourth place out of 38 cars in the King of the Hill 100-lap race, which is a major accomplishment in that division. Still, there's more to it than winning. To Jake, racing is a great way to make friends and spend time with family.
"Racing is really important to me because I've always really enjoyed it and love going fast! It's nice to spend time with friends and family at the track. A lot of my friends [there] are just like family," Jake said.
But, there are hardships in racing as well.
"The greatest problems have got to be coming off a week where you wreck and just regaining your composure to go out and try again," Jake said. "[But] the greatest pleasure has got to be the feeling of a well-deserved win and the respect from other drivers."
With only two years of high school left, Jake has had to consider whether he wants to make a career out of racing, and as great as racing has been, Jake has other things in mind.
"I'm not really sure at this point if I'm going to race when I'm an adult. Odds are though, I probably will not. At this point I would like to become a teacher."
Emily M. Spina is a junior at Starpoint High School.