Thirty-year-old Rick Schmelyun Jr. of Silver Run has been going to the races ever since he was 6 weeks old.
"Racing has been my whole life. Every weekend I go to the races either to watch or to race," said the son of local racing legend, Rick Schmelyun Sr.
Schmelyun, one of many second-generation racers on the area dirt track circuit, wants to become a full-time sprint car driver on the World of Outlaws Circuit.
He has the needed determination and confidence and, after his first full season, his accomplishments show he has his father's ability and talent.
Schmelyun was always at his father's side while racing; it was only natural that he acquired his dad's competitiveness. He began racing in 1980, a year after his father retired, starting with late-models because they were cheaper and easier to build than sprint cars.
While he raced late-models part time, he had his heart set on racing sprint cars.
"I always wanted to race sprint cars," Schmelyun said. "I wanted to race so bad that I saved all my money toward buying one."
Schmelyun worked seven years as a carpenter on high-rise apartment projects in Washington. His work day exceeded 10 hours, plus traveling time. There were times he was unable to race his late-model because of his long hours, but each weekend he was at Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa., looking forward to racing there.
Three years ago, after racing late-model on and off, he was able to buy his first sprint car -- one that bore the same color and number 9 that his father made famous. A limited budget allowed him to enter only 15 races the first year.
Schmelyun's career turned the corner two years ago when he met his current car owner, Troy Gebhart of Hanover, during a hospital dinner for new parents. The proud fathers quickly found they had more in common than new additions to their families.
Troy and his small business, Gebhart's Floor Coverings, helped underwrite Schmelyun's racing effort the second year, enabling him to run in 20 events. This year, Gebhart purchased a new car for his friend, and Schmelyun concentrated on driving and maintaining the car with his dad.
Schmelyun calls the trio a perfect combination.
The time and money invested in their racing venture has paid dividends.
Schmelyun's record for 1990 was impressive, especially for a driver in his first full season.
With the new car, Schmelyun was able to run in 48 races -- only once failing to qualify. He had 12 top-10 finishes and finished in the top 15 out of 24 cars 14 times. Schmelyun failed to finish in 14 races, due to flats and other mechanical problems.
Schmelyun does all of the work on the car, which has a chassis built by Bobby Allen of Hanover. The chassis and the transmission are the only parts Schmelyun does not build himself. Besides saving a considerable amount of money by doing the work himself, Rick believes he gets a better feel for the car.
"I know the car like the palm of my hand when I build it," he said.
"I like building things, it makes me feel good when I beat them with my own equipment.
"The Allen chassis is very sensitive, you can feel it in your hands when racing.A small change in the torsion arm in the steering makes a major difference on the track Now, the team is looking forward to next year and seeking additional financial support.
Schmelyun speaks proudly of his ability and is confident he can become the best driver in his class.
"I write everything down, how well I do, where I finish, what chassis set-up I used, how much fuel the car used. I keep a log of everything so I know what to do when I race under the same circumstances."
But there is more to racing than his quest for perfection in sprint cars.
"I like the thrill of being on the edge," he said. "It is like a guy walking on a tight rope. I love the thrill, I like the challenge. I want to be the best."
And if Schmelyun can't be the best, he is quick to suggest that his own son, Ricky, may some day bear the family's racing colors.
"He is only 2 years old, and he helps by handing me the wrenches. I am going to prepare him for racing as soon as he is old enough, and buy him a go-cart to race in."