Auto racing

Hebron 12-year-old chasing the big dogs in Legends Division at Illiana Speedway

2013-08-03T17:30:00Z 2013-08-12T13:49:03Z Hebron 12-year-old chasing the big dogs in Legends Division at Illiana SpeedwayAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
August 03, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

SCHERERVILLE | We've all seen this Western a dozen times. Young gunslinger rides into tough town, looking to make a name for himself.

The streets are empty. Homes are locked.

It's not quite the same scenario in the Legends Division at Illiana Motor Speedway, but close enough.

You have the kid -- Hebron 12-year-old Stan Zolodz IV fresh off dominating the Bandoleros Division -- now stalking wily veterans like two-time Legends champion and points leader Chris King of Kouts.

Goliath, meet David.

"We're kinda teaching him, trying to get him up to speed and then let him decide the rest," said King, 33. "He's a good kid. He did good with Bandoleros and they asked me to help him out, so we're showing him the ropes."

The Legends Division is like bull riding on ice.

"These cars are hard to drive," King understated. "NASCAR driver Kyle Busch actually ran these when he was younger and said this is the hardest car he's ever driven -- still, to this day.

"The horsepower (135) is more than the tires can handle. We've had a couple of flips this year but it's mostly guys who get (too close) and because the wheels are open, they hop wheels and end up rolling over."

Cars are valued at around $8,000 and run on "shaved" radial street tires ($600 a set) that are good for eight or nine races before having to be replaced.

"There's a lot of bumping with the bumpers because they don't line up," King added. "You can't do side to side."

The lightest a car is allowed to weigh, with driver, is 1,300 pounds. Legends are powered by 1250 CC Yahama Motorcycle engines, run on regular pump gas, and can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour on corners and 80 on the straightaway.

"I've always wanted to race and this is a low-budget way to get into racing," King said. "I bought in a car in '08, the first year they had Legends here, and it's been great.

"It allowed me to get my racing 'fix.' It's almost like a drug. You so look forward to Saturday. Winter's a long time (without it)."

King and Zolodz park their cars side by side in the huge pit area at Illiana and have formed a brotherly bond.

And like many drivers, they're quick to lend a helping hand to those in need regardless of any heated rivalries on the crowded track.

"It feels pretty cool with this Legends car," Zolodz said. "It's fast. It's a whole new level with a lot of crashes and crazy people out there. Just a fun car.

"I won every single (Bandoleros) race until I moved up to this in the middle of July. You gotta think about everything before you get into that car 'cause there's people out there who'll just hit you and they don't care."

For a 12-year-old to be driving is one thing, but to go 80 mph in heavy traffic is downright scary.

"I don't care about the speed," Zolodz said. "Just how the car handles. These cars are nothing like the Bando. They're pretty much all loose. It's crazy. Gotta be careful. It's a big handful of car."

Heat races are eight laps, feature races 20 laps on the quarter-mile track.

The Legends field is often 10 to 12 cars.

"Lots of money if you get first-place," Zolodz smiled.

Stan's mother, Michelle, can be found pacing back and forth between the cars and trailers on race night.

"I do get nervous," she said. "He's going fast. He's only 12. In my mind, I tell myself he's safer in that car than he is in my own, if he were to get into an accident."

She paused as Stan and Chris King posed for a photo.

"It's in the blood. His uncle does it. His grandfather used to race at the U.S. 30 Drag Strip. I tell him just to be careful," Michelle said of her son. "Just be careful."

After owning the Bandoleros Division, Stan and his family decided it was time to move up to tougher competition, which he's getting now. As of Saturday night, he was 14th among the point leaders at Illiana.

Uncle Paul Zolodz lives in Gary and races in the Limited Late Model, where you might find Stan one day.

And who knows? Maybe Indy cars in the distant future.

"He can support mom then," Michelle laughed.

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