Last month, Frankie Pruitt Jr. of Mount Airy fulfilled a lifelong dream. He strapped himself into a sprint car at the Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa., for his first race.
Last week, he competed in his fourth race at the Hagerstown Speedway. His progress in four races has been phenomenal. At the rate the 18-year-old rookie is going, he is certain to fulfill his dream of racing professionally on the World of Outlaws circuit.
Jumping in behind the wheel of a 700-horsepower fuel-injected sprint car is not the normal way of starting a racing career. Most drivers work their way through slower levels of competition, then move on to faster levels after a couple of years.
But Pruitt is a determined individual with a lot of talent. Instead of spending time working his way up the ranks, he jumped right into sprint car racing with both feet.
His father, Frankie Pruitt Sr., raced throughout the Northeast in midgets, modifieds and sprint cars. The young Pruitt was a part of his pit crew from the time he was old enough to help.
When his father retired from racing in 1989, Pruitt worked on Cris Eash's pit crew and later with Chris Hladik of Olney, gaining valuable experience.
When he turned 16, Pruitt wanted to start racing, but his father felt he wasn't ready.
"He started on me as soon as he was 16," said the senior Pruitt. "But I don't believe a 16-year-old belongs in a race car, especially a sprint car. But we told him if he kept his grades up in school, stayed on the honor roll, his mother and I would somehow get him a car to race when he graduated."
When Pruitt graduated from the New Life Christian School in Frederick with honors, his parents had a new sprint car ready for him to start his racing career.
"Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to race," said Pruitt. "I wanted to do what my dad did. I raced go-carts for a short time when I was 9, but all I really wanted to do was race sprint cars. Now I am finally getting that chance."
Racing for the first time is a new experience, especially on clay ovals behind the wheel of a 1,200-pound, open-wheel sprint car.
"I watched racing for so long, I said to myself, it can't be that hard. But there was a lot more to it than I thought," Pruitt said.
Pruitt learned a quick lesson during his first time out for warm-ups. Seeing some of the other drivers go around him during hot laps, he decided to follow them into the turns.
"I went too high too hard and backed into the wall and turned the car slowly over. It sort of shocked me," he said. "The drivers told me afterward to take my time, to take it slow and easy at first. That you just can't go out there and run fast."
Following their advice, Pruitt slowly has been getting the feel of the car. In four weeks he has improved tremendously.
Racing is a family effort for Pruitt, just like it was for his father. In addition to his father, his mother Bonnie and his 14-year-old brother Kyle are part of his crew.
"Racing is fun," said the elder Pruitt. "Other families enjoy hunting, fishing and vacationing. We enjoy racing. We enjoy it as a family."
Sponsorship comes from Mount Airy Auto Wreckers, Checkered Flag Auto Parts and M & M Springwater Co. of Mount Airy and Whitey's Beef & Pizza of Morrisville, N.Y.
This fall, Pruitt will continue his education at Frederick Community College, where he plans to major in computer art and graphics design, but his goal is to race professionally.
"I want to race with the World of Outlaws while I am still young," Pruitt said. "Right now I want to gain experience and maybe win Rookie of the Year honors at Williams Grove. Then, once I win some features, I want to race with the Outlaws."
Rain limited the race schedule throughout the area last weekend, but it didn't stop Union Bridge resident Howard Williams and Westminster's Corky Stull from having solid efforts at Lincoln Speedway on June 26.
Williams finished third in the 15-lap semi-late feature after starting in the 19th position.
In the 12-lap thundercar feature, Stull had the lead for the first nine laps but had to settle for runner-up to winner Bernie Beard.
At the Trail-Way Speedway June 25 in Hanover, Pa., Westminster's Brad McClelland took third in the Trail Blazing micro sprint feature. Mike Stult of Westminster finished sixth.
In the thunder eight-cylinder stock car feature, Stull, Gregg Messersmith (Hampstead) and Bobby Feeser (Millers) finished seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively.
Westminster's Gary Stuhler was third in the points race at Hagerstown Speedway going into last night's 50-lap Tony Armel Memorial. Nathan Durboraw was the points leader going into last night's race with 2,221. Stuhler had 2,096.