As it turns out, 17-year-old Tyler Vincetich is a natural when it comes to racing cars.
Vincetich, who lives in Beloit but is preparing for his senior year at Janesville Parker High School, won his first race at Rockford Speedway in just his fourth overall race on July 18.
Vincetich said the victory was a culmination of a lot of hard work.
“I’ve put a lot of time into being able to do this,” Vincetich said. “I’ve had a couple of part-time jobs ever since I was 16 and finally saved up enough money to buy my own car. My grandpa and my parents would take me to the speedway all the time when I was growing up, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. “It’s been the best thing ever.”
Vincetich purchased a 1998 Pontiac Grand Am, with eyes on entering the High School Racing Association races at Rockford Speedway.
“It was actually a risk to even buy that car,” Vincetich said. “But it’s ended up working great for me. In the division I’m in, the rookie class, you can only have American-made, six-cylinder cars, and you can’t really do anything to soup them up. That’s what makes it affordable.
“So for me it really didn’t matter if I had the best car or the worst car, I just wanted to get out on the track with whatever I could afford.”
Vincetich took out the windows, installed a roll cage and, thanks to some help from his grandpa, brought the car up to specifications so it would be ready to race.
“That first race, I had a lot of emotions,” Vincetich said. “I was nervous and scared, but I was also really excited. And it went well. I finished fifth in my heat, so I made it into the feature race. It was great because that just taught me what it felt like to be in a race.
“In the feature race, there was a crash right in front of me. I actually ended up going underneath a car, so it was pretty crazy. My hood caved in pretty good. But my grandpa, who is pretty much my one-man pit crew, and I fixed it up and I was able to win in my fourth start.”
Vincetich said his accomplishment didn’t seem real when he crossed the finish line.
“It was kind of an, ‘Oh wow, this is actually happening’ kind of moment,” Vincetich said. “I was kind of in shock. But it was a great feeling, too.”
The community vibe of the speedway is one of the things he enjoys most about the hobby.
“The community is amazing,” Vincetich said. “Once you get down into the pits, most people are really willing to help you out. You do get some guys that are really competitive and aren’t very nice, but the vast majority are really just nice people.”
Vincetich said his long-term goals are somewhat dependent on his finances.
“My dream is to move up with the big guys and race late model,” Vincetich said. “But the biggest hurdle there is financially. I know there are 12-year-olds who have sponsors or just a lot of money to spend on cars that are driving late-model. But I’m doing this with my own money and doing the best I can with it.”
Vincetich’s next race is Saturday at the speedway, but he might eventually have some company at the track.
“I have two sisters, one younger and one older,” Vincetich said. “And both of them have seen how much fun I’m having with the sport, so they got a car and are entering a demolition derby race in Jefferson. That’s where I got my start, and I’m not sure if they are going to want to continue after they get hit for the first time, but we’ll see what happens.”