Mike Drake grew up with dreams of becoming a race car driver. The allure of finely tuned machines, high speeds, and cheering fans excites most young boys, but the source of Drake’s racing dreams didn’t stem from TV or the movies, it came from watching his father circle the track at the Merced Speedway.
“I got started because my dad raced full modified in Merced when I was younger,” Drake said. “I always wanted to be a race car driver because of him.”
As he grew out of his childhood and into his early adolescence, Drake was eager to feel the adrenaline rush associated with racing. Since he was too young to legally operate a car, Drake jumped on the next best thing for a 13 year old—a BMX bike.
BMX racing eventually gave way to go-cart racing which in turn led to micro sprint and hobby stock racing at the Delta Speedway and Chowchilla Speedway, respectively. Finally, seven years after his first racing experience of any kind, Drake made the transition to sport modified racing in Chowchilla. His dream had been achieved; he was a racecar driver just like his dad.
“It was a big transition; it took me a while to get used to,” Drake said. “But with time and practice I slowly fit into each car.”
In his first year as a sports modified racer Drake earned the rookie of the year title. But his success in Chowchilla was short lived as the speedway was closed down after the season. The closure forced Drake to find a new home for his hobby and so the Turlocker made his way back to the site where it all began; the Merced Speedway.
“It’s run by good people,” Drake said. “All the officials are nice, but the tracks are different; different banking, shape, and size.”
So far, Drake hasn’t matched his rookie of the year season. Whether it’s the new track or just a sophomore slump, Drake has only been able to finish two of the six races he’s competed in. But as Drake points out, the wins and prizes aren’t the reason he or the other drivers choose to race. They do it for the fun, passion and pride.
“I love the adrenaline and the competition. Everyone out there are pretty much friends, willing to help each other,” Drake said. “The drivers and fans: it’s one big community and it makes you feel like you’re part of something.”
Drake’s next race will take place on June 7 at the Merced Speedway and will mark the half way point of the 14-race season.
— FRANKIE TOVAR