Age doesn't slow Weinert
TJ ENGLE/TIMES NEWS Michael Weinert stands next to the car he races at Big Diamond
Michael Weinert doesn't even have his Pennsylvania driver's license.
Yet, the Tamaqua Middle School eighth grade student is more experienced behind the wheel than most people twice his age.
It's obvious the 14-year old cannot legally take to the open road quite yet because of his age. But it doesn't mean Michael can't gain quality driving experience. He just has to get it in his very own race car.
That's what Michael does every Friday night when he travels to Big Diamond Raceway with his father Tom Weinert, his crew chief Bobby Smith and the rest of his family.
Weinert takes on some of the top racers in area on Big Diamond's three-eighth of a mile track.
"There is some really good competition," Michael said. "The great thing about that is it will teach me how to drive better than on a track with less competition."
Although just passing a car on an interstate highway can be intimidating for a young driver, Michael doesn't even really flinch at the idea of handling the pressures that come with the constant shuffling of traffic on the track.
Despite being one of the youngest drivers in the Sportsman Division, there's nothing stopping him in his race for the finish line. Not even the thought of racing against the 'big boys.'
"I really don't know how I do it," Michael said about handling the pressure of going against older, experienced drivers. "I think God has given me a great privilege of racing against these older men and beating them. I'm not saying that to be cocky either.
"I'm just glad to have a great ability to race. I just have so much fun doing it."
Tom Weinert feels his son's confidence comes with the experience he had driving Quarter Midgets and Micro Sprint car over the years.
"I think a lot of the reason is the age he started," Tom said. "He began racing when he was five years old. I saw a talent right away and he has just grown into it. Racing kind of became his niche.
"I saw something in him at five years old that I still see today that being his pure determination, his willingness to learn and his willingness to win. He's just an amazing race car driver."
Michael collected 140 victories while racing in numerous divisions of Quarter Midgets. He followed that by capturing five victories in 270cc Micro-Sprint (rookie and regular class) and 600cc Micro-Sprint (rookie and regular classes) prior to his debut in the Sportsmen class at Big Diamond this year.
Michael has set some high goals for himself in his No. 18 Modified.
"Our expectations are definitely to get Rookie of the Year," said Michael, who has already won Rookie of the Year in Micros at Linda's (of Pennsylvania) Speedway. "Another one is to finish top-10 in points and win as many races as possible."
On the season, Michael has started and completed in all five races on the year at Big Diamond.
The first week he raced he started 23rd and finished in 14th. The very next week Michael notched his first top-five finish by crossing the finish line in fourth place.
Two weeks ago, Michael started and finished ninth for his third top-10 finish.
"We're doing pretty good right now and have a good car," said Michael, who also races on the Race of Champion Dirt Modified Tour, in which he finished fifth at Five Mile Point Speedway in New York. "We're only a few races in, but I think it's pretty good. I think we're doing fairly well."
As the old cliché goes, "father knows best," and Tom feels he son has the power within himself to do whatever he sets his eyes on. .
"He could start dead last in his heat race and then finish first," Tom said. "His success is because he is determined and he loves to win. He doesn't like to lose."
Tom was quick to pinpoint another reason for his success. It was the constant teamwork between Michael and crew chief Smith in prepping the car on a daily basis and fine tuning it once they hit the pit area each Friday night.
"His success has a lot to do with his crew chief and also because he's willingness to learn," Tom said. "His crew chief has been very instrumental in setting up a good race car and Michael is very good at telling his crew chief where his car works and where it doesn't work.
"The combination between him and his crew chief is absolutely phenomenal."
Michael has tried to get the sport of racing down to a science.
Several years ago, his father decided to take it upon himself to test out a minor experiment with his son's racing skills to prove how serious his son takes the sport.
"When he was racing quarter midgets, I put a quarter down on the track," Tom said. "He didn't know I did it, but the only time he did not hit that quarter is when he was making passes. And, the second he got around those people he would start hitting that quarter again. So, he is meticulous about hitting his lines. It's almost sick.
"He's so focused out on the track and that's why he is as good as he is because he cares that every lap he takes he knows where he's going to put the car. He knows where he has to go. He feels the track out to find where the fastest line is."
That skill could possibly allow Michael to capture his first checkered flag at Big Diamond Raceway this season.
While he's doing his best to get to the Winner's Circle for the first time, Michael's still trying to figure out why he got into the sport in the first place.
"It seems like I always had the ability to drive race cars, but I don't know how the heck I got it (the talent to be a driver)," Michael said. "My dad never raced. Nobody in my family ever raced. I don't have any racing ancestors or anything. So, I don't know.
"But, I always loved racing. I always loved being around cars being at the racetrack. It feels so good to be at a racetrack.
"I guess that's where I'm supposed to be."