Alburnett teenager Brody Willett is a talented racecar driver who would love to work in NASCAR one day.
He has been described in many ways since becoming the youngest driver in Hawkeye Downs Speedway history to win a late model feature, in 2016 at the age of 14.
He “was born to go fast” one headline declared. He’s been called a phenom.
That all may be true. He may be the next big thing on the NASCAR circuit at some point. We’ve seen how tough that is to accomplish — ask Cedar Rapids’ Landon Cassill or Joey Gase — but someday a driver from Iowa will cross that threshold.
It very well could be Willett.
The problem is, we sometimes forget these “phenoms” also are kids.
In a wide-ranging chat with Willett earlier this week — I prefer chat over interview — he talked about a variety things. Now 17 and getting ready for his final year of high school, Willet mentioned his season, describing it as “pretty solid” and “a roller coaster” at the same time. He talked about school, about his girlfriend and his friends.
He talked about a “hiccup” he and his dad had that almost ended his driving career.
He sounded like a 17-year-old on summer break, wanting to have a little fun with his friends and not worry too much about life down the road.
And that’s OK.
“Being a teenager is not easy,” Willett wrote in an article for The Gazette last year (yes, he’s a talented writer, too). “Balancing school, chores, family and friends is hard enough before you throw in trying to make a career out of racing cars.”
A family friend noted there were some frustrations last year in the results and “when it gets frustrating, it can be easy to say ‘why am I doing this?’”
That can happen at any age, but when you’re a teenager and your summers are spent bouncing from one track to another — with that “phenom” tag wrapped around your neck — tensions can boil.
The important thing is Willett said he still is having fun and being behind a wheel remains a passion.
“While not everyone will understand it, racing is what drives me,” he wrote last year. “It’s my passion and is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Those plans may have altered just a bit in the last year, but that goal remains.
“I really like being around the racetrack,” he said. “There’s that cutthroat side of it and there’s that family side of it.”
Willett, who won rookie of the year awards in two divisions at Hawkeye Downs in 2014 and ’15, still is racing in the Big 8 Late Model Series. He raced at Hawkeye Downs on May 31 and will be at Madison International Speedway Friday night in Oregon, Wis.
In between those Big 8 races, he spends a lot of time racing in Wisconsin and Illinois. Hawkeye Downs doesn’t attract as many late models these days and Willett wants to be challenged. He wants to get better.
“We want to go to a place where we’re not supposed to win,” he said.
He’s looking forward to the rest of the season and to this summer, just like a lot of other teenagers.
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“The majority of the time, I’m enjoying it,” he said. “We’ve been having a lot of fun.”
And that, of course, is the best part.
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