In the fast lane

Steamboat racer invited to join national field

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Everything is going fast for Winston de Wardt.

In December 2002, de Wardt enrolled in the Skip Barber Racing School. In the summer of 2003, de Wardt transferred the open-wheel racing lessons he learned during his three days of classroom and track work into a third-place finish in the Skip Barber Regional Race Series.

Despite having no previous race experience in his background, de Wardt qualified for the end-of-season championship runoff race at the regional level as one of the top 15 drivers.

After the impressive showing in his first summer of racing came an unexpected surprise in the mail this fall.

De Wardt, now 19, received a letter at his home address in Steamboat Springs while he was in the midst of his first semester at Colorado State University in Pueblo. John de Wardt, Winston's father, saw the return address from Skip Barber and opened the envelope right away.

"I got a call and an e-mail," Winston de Wardt said of how he found out. "Basically, this came a year early."

Divina Galica, managing editor for the Skip Barber Formula Dodge National Championship, extended an invitation for de Wardt to join the national circuit -- a jump up from the regional level de Wardt competed at last summer.

De Wardt had planned to compete at the regional level again in 2004, but the letter changed everything.

"If he stays in regionals, he gets more experience," John de Wardt said. "If he goes into nationals, he has the opportunity to move up the ladder quicker."

Skip Barber is the official ladder series to the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) competition in the United States. CART is just one step to the Indianapolis 500 or Formula One.

The 2004 Skip Barber national champion earns a scholarship to compete in the 2005 Barber Dodge Pro Series, the official entry-level professional series for CART. De Wardt aspires to be a world championship contender in Formula One.

Though de Wardt's chances of becoming the national champ in his first year are slim, the chance to race across the country in a more elite field will provide him the opportunity to improve. He'll have to.

"People will be getting away with a lot more," de Wardt said. "It will be a lot more aggressive, but you still have to keep yourself focused."

At the regional level, if a driver hits another car or all four tires leave the track, the driver is required to stop in the pits. At the national level, contact is allowed, and de Wardt will be able to make mild adjustments on his car.

The appeal of Skip Barber is that the program provides the car and mechanics, so the driver just has to show up. At the national level, de Wardt will be able to adjust the brakes and suspension on the one car he will have during the four days of lapping, practicing and racing.

At the regional level, de Wardt had to share a car with any number of drivers during the four days, and if someone else crashed it, de Wardt had to find another one.

"It's the first level of real racing for him," John de Wardt said. "This level really relies on your racing skill."

For Winston de Wardt to realize his dreams of competing at the national level, he will need help from sponsors. Races at the national level are held throughout the country and in Canada at some of the premier racetracks, including Laguna Seca in California, Sebring in Florida and Mont Tremblant in Canada.

For more information on Skip Barber and de Wardt's racing plans, visit www.wdewracing.com

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208

or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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