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ALBURNETT — It might be "one of 20 stairs to get there" but 14-year-old Alburnett racecar driver Brody Willett, his family and Brody Willett Racing have taken the first step into big-time asphalt racing.
Willett will drive a Lefthander Chassis house car — a racecar built and maintained by the manufacturer as part of their team — in the Big 8 Series for the remainder of this season and next season. Lefthander co-owner Dan Lensing will be the crew chief, leaving Willett to be able to learn behind the wheel with a team that is well-established.
The path from here to NASCAR still is a long ways away, and Willett is just one among thousands of 14-year-olds who have the same dream. But he had no problem saying that was the goal, and the reason for this step.
“That’s the plan. That’s the goal,” Willett said. “It’s something that, when you get into it, it’s kind of hard to leave it behind and to stop. For us, to race for nine or 10 years, and just give up on that dream when we have a good shot just doesn’t make much sense.
“As time goes on and as I mature as a driver, I think I have the possibility to be at that level.”
Willett’s dad, Chad, said the deal between BWR and Wisconsin-based Lefthander came together within the last month or so. BWR is more than just Chad and Brody, too. It’s a group of Cedar Rapids-area business people who believe in Brody’s talent, and want to help him reach his potential. Rodney Rocarek of Rocarek Enterprises, Charlotte Linde from Macaroni Kid and team member Cameron Full all joined together with Chad to have a “vested interest” in Willett’s racing efforts.
Because make no mistake, racing at the level at which Brody will race — this year, next year and beyond, if they continue — takes a tremendous financial investment.
All across the country — especially at the NASCAR level — it typically takes an investment from a racer (usually with a sponsor) in conjunction with a race team to make these deals happen. Chad said he sat down with Lensing, “hammered out the details and got this deal done.” Chad declined to discuss specifics, but he said Lefthander “has some skin in the game, and that was important to us for who we went to.”
Sponsorship still is to be determined for 2017, but Macaroni Kid, which has sponsored Brody for the last few years, will be on the car — still with Brody’s familiar No. 00 on the side — the rest of this season.
To this point, BWR had run its own equipment at every level they’d raced. But to be at the competitive level they want to be and in order to set themselves up for the future, Chad said this was the route he and everyone at BWR agreed would be the best. Chad had been Brody’s crew chief along the way, but said it was time to turn it over to someone who has the knowledge, experience and time to apply to racing at that level.
“Dad ran out of talent,” Chad Willet said with a laugh. “It’s more of a decision to just step away and allow someone else to do what they’re best at instead of me trying to learn a new hobby.”
Enter Lensing, who has yet to actually meet Brody, but is confident in what he’s seen that the two will work well together and be competitive quickly.
He said he’s not worked with someone as young as Brody before, but doesn’t see that as an issue either.
“You want to see improvements, you want to develop the driver and make him better and the car to be better,” Lensing said. “I drove myself, and had some success at that, so I think I’ll be able to driver coach him and teach him things I had to learn along the way that will be able to excel quickly.”
Maybe NASCAR is the ultimate goal, and while Brody is more focused on that than Chad, both have said repeatedly the relationships they’ve fostered with people at the racetrack and with each other is why they’re so committed. Brody, who would’ve started high school at Alburnett this year, has moved to home schooling as a family decision, and ultimately will allow him to race more and not miss school.
Chad said he, Brody and BWR have approached this like Chad does with his business: with the idea of working hard, putting in time, “seeing what happens and making decisions as those things are put in front of us.”
“This is going to be fun,” Brody Willett said. “Working with as experienced people as we’re going to be working with, it’s definitely going to move us up to a new level of racing and competition. Obviously Dan and everyone at Lefthander know a lot, and they’re going to give us a fast car. I think we’re going to see results pretty quickly.”
Chad and Brody hit the road for their first race with Lefthander this weekend for the Wisconsin State Championships at Jefferson Speedway. From there they'll race Elko Speedway on Sept. 24, the Short Track National Championships at Rockford Speedway on Oct. 1 and wrap up at Oktoberfest at LaCrosse Speedway on Oct. 8.
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