Driver de Wardt on the fast track

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— His is a racing name; at least that's what everyone tells him.

Much like superstars Mario Andretti, Michael Schumacher or Helio Castroneves, Winston de Wardt is oil-slick smooth coming off the tongue.

Now, all de Wardt needs is the successful auto-racing career to compliment the grandeur of the name.

And that's the plan.

Born in Thailand, de Wardt lived and traveled around the world with his family before ending up in Steamboat Springs several years ago. His fascination with race cars started early, and his time in Europe -- where auto racing is an obsession -- helped de Wardt's dream of becoming a racing legend turn into more of a vision.

Living in France and Holland provided de Wardt the opportunity to immerse himself in Formula One, one of the world's most popular sports.

"I'd like to get to Formula One," de Wardt said. "Ever since I was a little kid, Formula One is all I've ever wanted. That's the top of the top."

According to Nielson Ratings, there are an estimated 105.5 million televisions in the entire United States. On Formula One race day, it's not uncommon for 400 million viewers to tune in around the world, providing statistical strength to the argument Formula One road racing is a global giant.

Perhaps de Wardt, 18, will have the opportunity to travel the world once again, next time as a racer instead of a dreamer. But before he has that chance, the 18-year-old must first learn how to masterfully handle his Formula Dodge R/T 2000 race car.

"It's a little different than the Subaru," de Wardt said.

John and Susan de Wardt enrolled their son in the three-day Skip Barber Racing School at Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., in December 2002. At Laguna Seca, de Wardt learned the fundamentals of racing in the classroom and driving sessions that included braking and shifting exercises and track drills in drafting, passing and racing in the rain.

His successful completion of racing school, car control clinic and advanced racing school enabled de Wardt to get his start at the regional level in the Skip Barber Race Series.

As part of the Midwestern Region, de Wardt has already competed in events at the Virginia International Raceway on April 26 and 27 and at Road America in Wisconsin on May 31 and June 1.

In just his fourth race ever --each stop has two races -- de Wardt moved up from his qualification spot of ninth to finish third, earning a spot on the podium at Road America.

This weekend he's in Birmingham, Ala., for instruction and competition.

The regional level is essentially the entry level in the Skip Barber Racing School, but de Wardt is already getting a feel for travel. He and his father fly to each competition -- they picked the Midwest region because it was the least amount of travel required.

John de Wardt's passion for auto racing spans a lifetime as well, so the thought of enrolling in the school with his son crossed his mind. But instead, John de Wardt watches, observes and listens, so his knowledge for the sport has grown along with his son's.

"I don't want to give him opinions. It's better for him to hear it from professionals," John de Wardt said. "He'll do it and I'll support him, but for him to go by himself would have been difficult."

Then John de Wardt lets out a laugh because both he and Winston know without dad serving as a chaperone, the younger de Wardt would never make it past the baggage claim in the airport terminal.

"He isn't old enough to rent a car," John de Wardt said.

But Winston de Wardt is old enough to drive a race car.

His Formula Dodge R/T 2000 doesn't have power steering or power brakes, so de Wardt, 5-foot-10 and 140 pounds, is doing whatever it takes to make him a mentally and physically stronger driver.

Michael David is de Wardt's personal trainer at Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center. David is helping him to build overall strength. David is impressed de Wardt already sees value in hard work on and off the track.

"He has a fire that's inside him," David said. "This is something he really wants to do. To have that kind of interest and goal at a young age, he is well ahead of the pack."

The de Wardts view the Skip Barber Racing Series as the best way for Winston to work his way up to Formula One, especially in America.

"It aspires to make learning affordable," John de Wardt said. "They provide everything. You show up and drive. They truck about 60 cars around with instructors and mechanics. By making the cars the same, it's up to the driver to do well. Skip Barber is the most cost-effective and most professional way to go up a career ladder."

In America, Skip Barker is the training ground for drivers interested in Champion Auto Racing Teams. CART is the final level after a driver progresses through the regional, national, pro and Toyota Atlantic levels.

Formula One is similar to CART.

Juan Pablo Montoya, a Formula One racer, learned his craft in the Skip Barber school, as did two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves. Michael Andretti was brought up in a racing family and the Skip Barber Racing Series, where his son Marco now competes.

De Wardt was once told there is nothing worse than to have wanted to do something and never tried.

"Ever since I was a little kid this is all I've ever wanted," de Wardt said. "I'm taking it one season at a time."

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