Zach Ralston is driven for a dream.
The 25-year-old Springville native has transformed hard work and a desire to be a race car driver into a seat behind the wheel of his own team. He returns to where it all began.
Ralston will make his fourth ARCA Series start and his debut at Newton's Iowa Speedway in the Prairie Meadows 200 Friday night, starting at 8 p.m. It will be just down the road from Newton's go-kart track where he raced as a youth.
"It's been a dream come true for me to be at my home track," Ralston said. "I'm very excited."'
Support will be strong for Ralston. Forty-four people are expected to be in a sponsor's suite, making a visit to the garage, and 30 more friends and family are expected to be in the stands. Exhilaration and pressure accompany driving at your home track.
"I'm excited to race in from of them," Ralston said. "I'm definitely nervous. I can't lie and say I'm not. I want everything to go right."
The chance is the product of Ralston's undeniable desire to become a race car driver. He started racing go-karts at 10, winning track and even two IKF national titles with the final one coming in 2007. The following year, Ralston took a huge step toward his auto racing goal.
At 21, he loaded up his Ford Explorer and headed to North Carolina, leaving his friends and family in Iowa. He enrolled in a school to become a crew member, and earned a job cleaning a trailer for Andy Belmont Racing. Ralston, who praised the support from his family, was on his own, trying to learn as much as possible.
That was the hardest part, loading all my belongings up and going for it. I took off with a handful of stuff in my truck," Ralston said. "A lot of people can't do that. They can't go away and go out of their comfort zone.
"An old basketball coach told me opportunity knocks softly, so if you don't take the chance you'll never know," Ralson said. "We took the chance and it's going great."
Watch KCRG's John Campbell's story on Ralston in December
After washing the trailer, Ralston moved on to become a mechanic, continuing to gain as much knowledge as he could about every aspect of racing. Ralston progressed quickly, taking over the role of crew chief in just four seasons. Now, he secured his own car and runs his own team, filling just about every role necessary.
"I'm very proud of what he does. He works for it," said Richard Ralston, the driver's father. "He has a great passion for racing. If it were easy everyone would do this. You have to pay your dues. If you don't pay your dues it's not worth it."
Zach Ralston is benefiting from that hard work, serving various roles now with his own team. He does whatever is needed in and out of the garage. The car, sponsored by O-Rings Sales and Service, Inc., and Roush Yates Parts, he will race this weekend is a perfect example.
"I built my own race car," Zach Ralston said. "This Iowa car, I touched every bolt on it. I put it together and helped do the work myself."
Other competitors can focus solely on driving, a luxury Zach Ralston can't afford. He puts in a long day, helping prepare the car for tech inspections and working as a mechanic during race weekends.
"Other drivers act like drivers," Richard Ralston said. "He can't because we don't have a big crew, so he has to work on the car."
Getting a chance to drive a race car meant just about everything to the younger Ralston. During the entire time he was washing trailers and working on cars, his sights were set on being behind the wheel. He remained motivated to accomplish his dream, and knew only one method to make it a reality.
"In my family, we're raised to be competitive and to work hard, and if you want it the only way you can go out and get it is to work for it," said the younger Ralston, who was raised for a time with his cousin, former University of Iowa and current Baltimore Ravens lineman Marshall Yanda. "That's the only way we know how."
Inspiration springs from another source. Zach Ralston experienced heartache, losing his older brother, Travis, in a car accident in 1998, and his older sister, Stacey, in a car accident a little more than four years later. Both were 17 at the time of their death.
"That, most definitely, affected my life a lot," Zach Ralston said. "(My family) know I love racing. They know my brother and sister would be proud that I worked hard to chase a dream that I've always had and never had enough money to do myself."
Travis and Zach Ralston shared their first go-kart together, but Stacey Ralston was never bit by the racing bug that infected many family members, including Richard Ralston, Yanda and Yanda's sister, Katie. The fact Zach Ralston's siblings were car crash fatalities does not deter him from motorsports, which can be dangerous.
"I believe God takes everyone for a reason," Zach Ralston said. "It was their time. Whether it is a vehicle accident or in a hospital, I don't believe that (being in a car) is why they went."
Another impressive aspect is Zach Ralston's inexperience in cars at this level. He raced go-karts and then didn't race at all until getting a chance in February 2011. Before working the season for Grant Enfinger Racing, crew chief Tommy Bear encouraged Zach Ralston to race a limited late model at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Zach Ralston spun out in qualifying and started last in the 22-car field. With seven laps remaining, he was nearly lapped by the leader before a red flag stopped the race. After the restart, Zach Ralston zipped from last to a ninth-place finish.
"He got it. it clicked on what he needed to do," Richard Ralston said. "This boy was born to do this. This is what he's supposed to be doing. He's supposed to be in a race car."
Now, his fledgling career has already come full circle. He will make his fourth ARCA start, finishing 16th in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, and 18th at Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Zach Ralston said he wants to finish on the lead lap and create an entertaining race for the friends, family and sponsors who will attend."Driving by (Iowa Speedway) a few years ago, I had in the back of my mind that it would be great to race there," he said. "The dream is coming true for me. It is great."