Before the green flag flies at Raceway 5 in Batavia on Saturday night, Val Stephens will be spotted in her driving suit getting ready for a night of racing at the dirt track oval. Moments after she takes the checkered flag, she will make a quick change into her dress and head off to the Clarion Hotel in Batavia for the Batavia High School prom.
Sharing the same pit area with her will be her racing brother, Carl Stephens, and their parents, Dave and Tonja Stephens. This racing family is not only having fun but has also found success in the two teenagers’ driving careers. They are all very devoted to the sport.
Val, 16, began racing at Raceway 5 in 2009 in the Mini Stock class and has won numerous feature races as well at the last two season-point championships in the class. She also won last year’s Dirt vs. Asphalt Challenge Series, a schedule that combines finishes of certain races at Raceway 5 and the paved Wyoming County International Speedway. In addition to her Mini Stock schedule, she is also campaigning a Sportsman Modified at WCIS. She trails Chad Dickinson in the Raceway 5 Mini Stock standings by a single point, 162-161.
Carl, 14, began racing in the Bandit class at age 12 and, after placing third in the Raceway 5 standings in 2011, he captured the title a year ago. The Bandit class is reserved for racers between the ages 12 and 18. He is trying to repeat as Raceway 5 Bandit champ and leads the class with a 178-174 edge over Mike Taddonio.
“Racing is always something I wanted to do,” Val said. “My grandparents and my parents both raced, so my brother and I are the third generation of racers in the family.”
“I asked my dad a few years ago if I could race, and he said ‘sure,’ and we got a car from Randy Barclay,” Val said. “My dad was just finishing up his driving career in the BRP 360 Late Models.”
Last season, in addition to driving her Mini Stock entry, Val also drove a 600cc Micro-Sprint. She finished fourth in points at Raceway 5 and was second in rookie points with the traveling Pizza Logs 600cc Tour.
Late in the 2012 season, another opportunity came along for Val, courtesy of veteran asphalt Sportsman Modified racer Tom Weist.
“Late last year, Tom could not make the 100-lapper at Wyoming County because he had to go to a wedding and he asked me if I would like to race his car,” Val said. “ I did it and it was OK. I’m trying to get into the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program and we knew that if I wanted to get in the program I’d have to drive something bigger and faster, so now I’m not only driving the Mini Stock for points at Raceway 5 but the Sportsman car at Wyoming County.”
As for prom night, after her race is complete, Val will change in the race hauler and get dressed for her special evening.
Carl has been hampered this season by a pair of surgeries related to a knee injury suffered on the lacrosse field, but he has found racing success.
After injuring his knee earlier this spring, he was able to drive the first two weeks of Raceway 5’s season, where he finished first in the season opener and second the following race. After a second surgery was required, he was set to hand the wheel of his Bandit car over to Zack Allen for a week, but that event was rained out. Carl is expected back in the car this Saturday.
“I enjoyed winning the Bandit championship last year at Raceway 5,” Carl said. “I won 10 or 11 feature races last year and had a great year. This year I already have one Bandit win and Raceway 5 has a new rule that if a driver wins three Bandit features in the same year, at that time they must move up to the Mini Stock class.
“So I could be doing good in points this year and possibly be on the way to the point championship but if I get three wins and have to leave the Bandit class, that could end it because then I have to go to the Mini Stocks.”
If Carl should have to move up to the Mini Stocks, this will be the first time that the Stephens siblings will be racing head to head.
“If they end up racing against each other, this is going to be very interesting for me,” said Tonja, who along with Dave operates the Stephens family farm on the outskirts of Batavia. “I’ll be very nervous when they are on the track together but I’ve told them that if this happens, whatever happens at the race track stays at the race track. Family is more important.”
“I’m just grateful that many of the same sponsors who helped me when I raced have stuck around to help the kids,” Dave said.
“Tonja and I are very proud of them, and we’ll just see what happens with their driving careers.”
• Local drag racer Dan Flanigan had a solid runner-up finish in his NOCO sponsored 2013 Camaro SS at the June 1 IHRA Summit Pro-Am Tour Pittsburgh Nitro Jam event at Pittsburgh Raceway Park. The team also won the event’s “Best Appearing Car” award.
• The late Chris Economaki, who died at age 91 last September, was considered the dean of motorsports journalists. For 60 years he was a columnist for National Speed Sport News. He accomplished many other things in the sport. He was a print reporter, race announcer, television commentator and book author.
Economaki’s daughter, Corinne Economaki, along with retired automotive industry executive and author Leo Levine and motorsports publicist Judy Stropus, will present a “Tribute To Chris Economaki” Saturday at the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen. The 1 p.m. event, with free admission, is part of the “Center Conversation Speaker Series” at the center, 610 South Decatur St. Call (607) 535-9044.
• Due to rainouts, Ransomville Speedway has added a race date. It is a regular stock car show July 2, one day before the already scheduled Battle at the Border event.