Racing fans looking for some excitement in the weeks to come can make their way to the East Alabama Motor Speedway on June 21. This is where the first annual Randy Helton Memorial Race will take place. Named for Randy Helton from Palmetto, Georgia, who passed away in March this year at just 47 years of age, the race promises to be a good one. Helton raced regularly in the O’Reilly United Sprint Car Series during his career as a driver and he also worked as crew chief for the man who founded the series. The speedway, which is located just seven miles from Phoenix City on Highway 80 West, was Helton’s favorite race track and so it is a fitting choice of venue for this memorial event.
Randy Helton started driving as a rookie in the O’Reilly USCS in 1998 shortly after purchasing a J & J Auto Racing car from Walton. The car had previously been driven by Frankie Kerr and Stan Shoff, and provided Helton with the opportunity of a life-time: the chance to start his own racing career. During his racing career he has been able to set the fastest time at the East Alabama Motor Speedway, where he also took the lead until experiencing tire problems and having to pull back. That was in 2007 and Helton would have no doubt gone on to enjoy even more success if he’d been able to race for just a few more years.
The East Alabama Motor Speedway will be sharing the weekend with Penton Raceway, which is located about an hour north of the speedway. This is because the Randy Helton Memorial Race is part of the weekend’s sprint car double-header series. The points awarded at both races will count towards the O’Reilly USCS Southern Thunder Championship. The Randy Helton Memorial Race will also have the distinction of awarding drivers with national championship points. The event will give drivers the chance to win a number of commemorative trophies and plaques as well as other special awards. Randy Helton will be sharing his memorial weekend with Randy Scott, a retired USCS driver from Franklin who passed away in April this year at 60 years of age. The Randy Scott Memory Dash has been established in memory of this great driver and will form part of the weekend’s proceedings. Anyone wanting to know more should go to the raceway’s official website.
As one of NASCAR‘s newest rookies, seventeen-year-old Mackena Bell is also one of the few female drivers on the tracks. This young woman is already incredibly accomplished for her age and seems set to enjoy a successful future in the racing industry.
Mackena Bell has already carved quite a name for herself, so it was no surprise when she started her rookie season with a top 10 finish in the NASCAR Whelen Series this year at the All American Speedway in Roseville, California. Bell is the youngest competitor in this year’s California series and, while she is driving well, she says her focus isn’t to aim for the top. Instead she wants to spend her time this year learning all she can from the racing greats around her. Of course, she also wants to finish her races and improve her driving skills, but only time will tell if this already noteworthy young driver is going to be leaving other NASCAR drivers choking on her exhaust fumes.
Bell has been driving and racing since just 12 years of age and has progressed through the dirt and asphalt ranks with Championship Titles in both divisions. Her Championship Title as an asphalt driver came at the tender age of 14 and made her youngest driver to claim this honor in the entire 42-year history of her hometown track. In 2005 she graduated from the Lyn St. James Driving School and she has since claimed 4 Rookie of the Year awards and she has also won the title for ‘Most Inspirational Driver’. As if that wasn’t enough for the youth, she went on to establish her own company earlier this year. Called “Mackena Bell Motorsports” the youth is running a pretty impressive family-owned car. The car is a 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix that has been fitted with a 2002 Lahorgue Chassis. It is powered by a Chevrolet 350 SPEC motor that was built by Harold Long and which is capable of producing over 400 horsepower. The vehicle has a stock front clip and 8-inch Goodyear tires. The car has been specially kitted out to ensure that the 5’3″ driver enjoys as much comfort during races as possible.
Bell’s team is still relatively small and is headed by her father, Kelly, while Dave Sciarroni of the Sciarroni Bros. race team acts as the Crew Chief. Mackena Bell will most likely run more than 20 races at the All American Speedway between now and October. She is definitely a favorite amongst this year’s NASCAR rookies, and only time will tell what sort of success her dedication and talent will bring her.
He has been out of high school for less than a year, and already Graham Rahal has started making a name for himself – in fact, he’s put himself into the racing history books. At just over 19 years of age, Graham Rahal has become the youngest driver to win an Indy-car race.
Graham Rahal has managed to beat former record holder Marco Andretti by just 74 days. Andretti was 19 years, 167 days old when he first broke the record for youngest Indy-car race winner as a rookie on the Infineon road course in Sonoma, California, in 2006. Now, just days ago, at 19 years and 93 days old, Rahal has replaced Andretti as the youngest winner in Indy car history. The new record was set at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix circuit in Florida, during the second race of the season. Yet this achievement definitely didn’t come easy.
The trouble started eight days earlier when his team couldn’t get his car repaired in time for him to race in the season opener. That meant that he had to sit the season opener out. When the race finally started, it was raining and Rahal started ninth. This relatively good position soon meant nothing when he got hit from behind by Will Power and spun out. When he eventually managed to recover he was almost at the back of the pack. In a start that would discourage most drivers, it would seem that Graham Rahal just hunkered down and worked harder at climbing his way to first place.
His first major boost came when he became one of the first drivers in the race to switch from grooved rain tires to slicks as soon as the track started to dry. This pit stop put him second in line for the restart. Ryan Hunter-Reay was in first place but needed to conserve fuel and so Graham Rahal was able to make a good start and get a good lead at the restart. With less that four minutes left to the race, another caution caused yet another restart. Graham Rahal was in the lead but he was constantly dogged by Helio Castroneves, the winner of the previous two St. Petersburg races, and he had to work hard to make sure that Castroneves didn’t overtake him. His hard work paid off and Rahal was able to pull away from Castroneves in the last four laps of the 1.9 mile street course. The race lasted just two hours and in that short time Rahal made history.
Rahal’s father Bobby, himself a three-time season champion, greeted Rahal in the victory lane. They hugged and his father said simply: “Nice job.” When asked about his success in a later interview, Rahal said that the win felt “great” and praised his team for doing an “awesome job”. Way-to-go Graham Rahal!
Ashley Force was born on 29 November 1982 – the daughter of John and Laurie Force. John Force has been National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) champion fourteen times, so it came as no surprise that Ashley showed an interest in auto racing at an early age. After high school, Ashley attended California State University-Fullerton graduating with a B.A. in communications, specializing in television and video. In 2007 Ashley Force was voted by an AOL Sport Poll as the Hottest Athlete, chosen over Tom Brady and Danica Patrick.
Ashley finished 4th in driver points in 2004 after winning three of the final five races of the season as a Top Alcohol division rookie. One of her victories was the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals held at Indianapolis. Ashley and her father John made NHRA history as the first ever father-daughter winners at the season finale race of the Automobile Club of Southern California held at Pomona.
In 2007 Ashley progressed to driving a Castrol-sponsored Mustang in the professional Funny Car division for John Force Racing. Her first race in this division found Ashley up against, and losing to, her brother-in-law, Robert Hight. In April 2007 Ashley and John Force, as father and daughter, again made NHRA history – this time for competing against each other in Atlanta. Ashley won the race with a top speed of 317.05 miles per hour in a time of 4.779 seconds. She went through to the semifinals which ended in a tie, recorded as the highest ever Funny Car event finish by a female.
Ashley has continued with her love for movies and television, thereby putting her B.A. degree to good use. She is featured on “Driving Force“, an A&E reality show focusing on her father, John Force and his drag racing daughters – Ashley, Courtney, Brittany and Adria (Ashley’s half-sister). “Driving Force” follows the day-to-day life of John while he balances his business with family responsibilities.
Ashley’s mother, Laurie, relinquished her role of managing contracts for John Force Racing so that she could focus on raising her children. John Force, having established a successful business, has resolved to devote more time to his daughters, and fully supports their interest in racing.
Auto racing fans are assured of interesting times ahead as they track the progress of the Force family. Ashley Force has certainly shown that she has what it takes to succeed in her chosen career.
The Automobile Club of Southern California has always been synonymous with vehicle safety, driving projects and overall dedication to anything automobile related. Since being founded in 1900, they have been actively involved in road improvements and increasing safety on public roads. They also gained great popularity with the NHRA Street Legal Program that they ran, through AAA, to lure illegal street racers off the public roads into safe and controlled environments, such as abandoned runways and deserted dry lakes. Annually, the Automobile Club of Southern California awards the prestigious Road to the Future Award to a promising rookie driver. This year there are five nominees who are equally worthy of the honor.
Remaining true to their belief in safety, commitment to the automotive industry and integrity to the association, the Road to the Future Award is presented to the rookie driver of the NHRA PowerAde Drag Racing Series who has shown the most potential for the future during their first racing season. Just being nominated for this award is a wonderful honor, as it proves to the drivers that they have exhibited noteworthy performances and have achieved the recognition of associations such as the Automobile Club of Southern California. The Road to the Future Award is also a magnificent motivational tool, encouraging rookies to excel and work hard at a successful career, not only in drag racing, but in whatever form of racing they pursue and in the automotive industry.
This year the nominees for the 2007 Road of the Future Award are: Barry Henson (Pro Stock Motorcycle), Ashley Force (Funny Car), Matt Scranton (Pro Stock), Justin Humphreys (Pro Stock) and Craig Hankinson (Pro Stock). One of these names will be added to the long list of racing legends who have also been awarded this title, including Doug Kalitta, Gene Wilson, Jason Line, Tony Pedregon, J.R. Todd and Melanie Troxel. In 1998, the Automobile Club of Southern California presented the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum to the public, in which they celebrate the lives and careers of famous drivers, unforgettable racing events and cars that will be etched into the memories of all racing enthusiast. Not only do rookie drivers long for their name to be added to list of Road to the Future Award winners, but to secure a place for themselves in the annals of racing history.