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    Isaak Solochek fell in love with racing after watching the Pixar movie Cars. The 2007 Daytona 500 got his juices pumped. So when he got the chance to race quarter midgets himself, how could he say no?

    For more information, see Isaak's Web site at isaaksolochekracing.com
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Isaak collects his USAC .25 trophies in Indy

Isaak Solochek racing awards

After a few months away from the track — competitive soccer beckoned — Isaak was happy to be back among his racing friends for the USAC Next Generation awards banquet Dec. 8 in Indianapolis.

He got to visit the IMIS racing convention, where he saw all sorts of cool cars and equipment, and met IndyCar racer Oriol Servia. He also got to endure a hotel and convention center filled with cheerleaders covered in ribbons and sparkles.

Best of all, he enjoyed hanging out with his USAC friends at the banquet, where he collected trophies for fifth place overall in Junior Honda, and third place in Junior Honda in the Mid-Atlantic sub series.

Now he’s got the bug to get back into his cars and start preparing for the 2013 series, this time as a senior. Can’t wait to see everyone again.

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No regrets as Isaak ends USAC .25 season, junior career

Toledo was not in our plans. But after Isaak realized his quarter midget career as a “junior” driver was coming to an end in Kalamazoo, he begged for one more round in the USAC .25 national series. He has just that much fun.

So we hastily made arrangements before heading out of Michigan to let it happen.

The trip proved tough, with many moments of frustration — not the least of which were the results. Plus, the remnants of Hurricane Isaac threatened the entire event, causing delays and, on the bright side, winning our Isaak a new nickname (Hurricane, natch) from USAC announcers. But at the end of the weekend Isaak made clear he had no regrets with the way things went, and he was glad to have made the trek.

Perhaps most difficult was practice day. Lyra had to fly solo with Isaak, getting overheated on the blazing day as she worked to tune three cars on our first visit to this bumpy oval. Thanks so much to the friends from other teams who helped when needed with the lifting and hauling. But by Saturday’s Honda racing day, everyone was tired (Jeff flew in to join the team and got to the hotel around 2 a.m.) but feeling closer to ready.

Junior Honda came first, and Isaak had a relatively easy heat race. He quickly passed his way up from fourth to second, and held the spot to win a slot in the A Main feature. After watching Isaak’s buddy Jake Garcia race far away from the field to win the heat, though, we knew we had to get the car faster to challenge for a podium spot. So we gambled on some adjustments to free up the car, but unfortunately didn’t compensate for the gearing.

At the start of the race, Isaak fared well, zooming up toward the front of the pack. But as the race proceeded with few cautions, the car began to peter out, and Isaak began losing spots. He didn’t help himself when, with three laps to go, he didn’t draw a yellow after connecting with Zack Cullen and coming to a near stop. Instead, he righted himself and kept going, putting him  a half track behind and a lap down. He couldn’t make up the difference, and ended with a disappointing 10th place finish.

Light 160 posed a different set of problems. The biggest one: A 12-car C Main. If you know quarter midgets, you know that’s recipe for a wreck fest. And we got no surprises here.

Isaak started near the back after a lackluster heat race. But he was competitively fast after the changes we made between races. The issue was getting past the crashes and spins that were happening all around him. At one point, Isaak found himself stomping on his brakes, and ending up maybe 2 inches from the bumper of Kyle Craker’s spun car ahead of him. He made it through cleanly, and passed into a transfer spot several times. Each time, though, he had the pass called off because of a caution before everyone finished the lap. (In such instances, they revert to the order of the last completed lap.)

The final time that happened in this particular race was right as time expired. Isaak had moved into fourth again, only to have it taken back as the 15-minute time limit expired. Total number of laps officially on record? Seven of 25. Still, Isaak said he had a blast in the race and hoped to get into the B Main as the alternate. (He didn’t get the call.)

Sunday was Briggs day, so Isaak had just one entry, his Junior Animal. It would be his final junior race, having already turned 9 over the summer, so he had high hopes. They were quickly dimmed in his heat race, where he looked strong but then lost a keyway and was unable to finish. That put him at the back of the B Main.

We prepared the car for the B Main, and Isaak visited each of his key competitors to suggest that they all work to not crash each other. Everyone had a lot to lose by not making the feature, he noted, and the field looked like one where they could all advance. And they did.

Racing in the A Main, Isaak focused on making it to the podium for the last time as a junior. It looked possible. The car was not the fastest on the track, but it was fast enough to remain in the mix. He also drove smart, avoiding troubles on the track and doing away with some of the antsy moves that he had been attempting in some of the previous races. He passed when he could and settled in when it made more sense, making his way to fourth and waiting for the moment.

That came on the final lap of the race. Isaak had been coasting in fourth behind Conner Morrell in third, who was struggling to get past the lap car of Zeek Torgesen. Then he saw his opening going through Turn 3. He stuck his nose in for a clean pass, riding side by side with Conner as they came out of Turn 4. But Conner jiggled, bumping Isaak into the rumbles and turning him around as the checkers came out.

Isaak knew he could have settled for fourth, or raced for third instead. Though disappointed at having watched the rest of the field pass him by as he sat backward, Isaak said he wouldn’t have done it any other way. “I had to go for it,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t have been satisfied with not trying. Two weeks later he still talked about the race as one of his favorites of the weekend, because he knew he had it going on and it was fun.

After arriving home, we ditched Isaak’s junior restrictor plates, cleaned the motors and began preparing for racing up in SENIOR Animal and Honda along with continuing in Light 160, and maybe even adding Light World Formula to the mix. Carolina Fall Nationals, anyone?

Isaak nears USAC .25 season end in Kalamazoo

When it comes to fun racing action, Isaak had it all at Kalamazoo, which vaulted into his Top 3 favorite tracks during Round 13 of the USAC .25 quarter midget national series.

He took his Junior Honda heat race, winning by nearly half a lap as his nearest competitors banged, bumped and slowed but didn’t draw a yellow in the 15-lap event. In the A Main, he fell to the back, raced into the front pack and then lost ground when he was bumped sideways while trying to defend his position. He came back to take sixth only after two cars ahead of him came together and slowed on the last lap, allowing him to catch up.  If he hadn’t anticipated a yellow, slowing himself momentarily, Isaak could have possibly taken fifth.

In Light 160, Isaak battled a tight car in the heat, landing him in the lowest C Main (with 12 cars). Adjustments gave Isaak back his control, and he found his groove, rising all the way to the top spot for a handful of laps before settling into third. Good enough for a transfer to the B Main.

The track changed again by the time he returned, though. Again, he fought a tight car that made it tough to turn. So instead of zooming into the A Main, he battled Aaron Bollinger in the back for the seventh and eight spot, with Isaak coming up on the short end.

That left Junior Animal for the next day.

In his heat race, Isaak had a decent car, racing solidly mid-pack until the leaders took themselves out with one lap to go. Isaak moved to the top spot for the restart, but on lineup the car behind him jumped his rear wheel and stripped the chain off. He had to come into the pits for repair, and went back out at the tail. On the green, he held back slightly, only to watch the second through fourth place cars tangle. He drove right by to take second and the outside pole for the A Main.

In the feature, the craziness continued. Isaak raced out with the lead pack, where the top four drivers pulled away from the rest of the field and looked set to go. Isaak settled comfortably in fourth, biding his time before looking to make his move. He pulled close to the second and third place cars with two to go, and with a lap left he started to slide in for a pass. At the same time, though, Gage Painter in third aimed to take Logan Heath in second. Gage hit Logan and spun him, and Isaak had nothing to do but spin into the grass, too. Unfortunately, the flagman had thrown the checkered flag prematurely for Connor Gross, who was coming through turn three toward the finish line, ending the race.

Isaak would have gone to second on a restart had the yellow come out, since he spun to avoid the wreck in front of him. But once the checkers fly, the race is over. So he ended up with grassy tires, seventh place, and a generous apology from the flagman rather than a podium position.

Isaak also begged to take in one more USAC race before the season ends. Kalamazoo was supposed to be the last for us this season. But we worked things out to head to one more race. So look out Toledo, here we come!

‘I broke my flipping curse!’: Isaak tackles North Carolina

The quarter midget track at Salisbury, N.C., has vexed Isaak and his team for years. The track grips up as the day wears on, and just keeping all four wheels on the ground can take some effort. So heading to the Salisbury round of the USAC .25 series after a weekend of flipping in Indianapolis caused some angst.

Practice wasn’t encouraging. Trying to get a read on the track proved elusive, like usual, so it felt like we were constantly chasing a setup.

Things started to look up in the Junior Honda heat race. Isaak started seventh, and steered his way to third — a likely transfer to the A Main. But then he got stuffed into the wall, throwing his front-end alignment completely off and ending his chances for a good finish. With his front wheels pointing in different directions, he limped across the finish line well behind the leaders and headed for the back of the (lowest) C main.

The crew rebuilt the front end barely in time for the race, in which the car looked fairly decent. Isaak stayed toward the front to transfer to the B Main. But B Main didn’t boost confidence much, with a lackluster eighth place finish in a car that Isaak deemed “slow.”

Isaak’s Junior Animal heat race continued the trend, with a back of the pack finish that had him starting 10th of 11 in the A Main.

But the Junior Animal A Main is where things turned around. Isaak started in the back, but within two laps made up four spots and a few laps later found himself in second, a spot he held for several times around the track until a caution bunched the field back together. On the restart, Isaak snuck under Neal Allison to take the lead, where he battled Connor Gross for a few laps before falling back into second and then third. On the final lap, Jake Garcia snuck under as Isaak got loose, putting him in fourth as the checkers flew.

Isaak was ecstatic with the end result, cheering, “I broke my flipping curse!” It was a good way to end a tough weekend, and put a positive outlook on the next USAC stop at Kalamazoo.

Isaak races hard in Battle at the Brickyard

Isaak arrived at the Mini Indy quarter midget track on the Indiana State Fairgrounds ready to Battle at the Brickyard, USAC’s annual national race. He practiced through his birthday, getting his cars and his mind set for tough racing against the best competitors around. By the time the heat races came, he was primed.

He won his Junior Honda heat race and took the pole for the A Main. He won his Junior Animal heat race and nabbed the outside pole for the A Main. He placed third in his Light 160 heat race and qualified for the outside pole in the B Main, his best result ever in a USAC field this big.

Then came all the flipping.

Starting in second in the Light 160 B, Isaak jumped out to grab the lead on the green. Fending off a challenge for first a few laps in, he got tagged in the left rear and flipped onto his lid in the infield. He was fine — said the flip was actually fun — and went to the back of the pack, car undamaged. Isaak raced his way back into contention, finding himself in the fifth spot with two to go.

He made his move with a perfect pass on Jackson Lee going coming out of turn four to snag a transfer spot, only to see it vanish when the 8 car spun out before completing the lap. The field went back to the last completed lap, leaving Isaak in fifth and Jackson now wary that his spot was in danger. Next restart, Isaak couldn’t repeat the move, and he ended up the alternate for the A Main. Although there was an accident before the first lap was finished, Isaak did not get a chance to race in the feature.

Isaak’s two A Main races had more of the same.

Isaak started on the pole in Junior Honda and held the lead on green. Connor Gross was quick in the third spot and moved to pass going into turn 1. Isaak defended with a crossover move to the inside, and Connor, seeking to take the spot for himself, turned down into Isaak’s rear end and crashed him, flipping Isaak for the second time in the weekend. Isaak was able to continue racing, and he made up three positions from the rear to finish sixth.

With two flips behind him, Isaak determined to soldier on in Junior Animal. He also decided to play a more cautious game early in the race. So when challenged for the early lead by faster cars, he settled into third rather than fight for the lead. No difference. Charging from fourth, Owen Carlson cut under Isaak through turn 2 despite having no room, and hit Isaak in the left rear. This became Isaak’s more crushing flip of the weekend, with his head hitting the wall.

Remarkably, Isaak felt fine and his car suffered only a thrown chain and a bent rod. He wanted to race, so with help from friends we worked to get the car ready to return to the track. We were about 10 seconds off the pace, and could not go back to racing. Isaak ended up 9th.

On the up side, Isaak received many accolades for his tough spirit and strong, clean racing — none of the crashes were his fault, but rather caused by aggressive driving by competitors. Still, we had to make light of the bad luck rather than wallow in it. So while podium finishers prepared for awards, we headed to victory lane with Isaak’s three cars for a little ceremony of our own.

Before the Battle at the Brickyard, Isaak also took in a weekend race at the Little Kalamazoo Speedway. He finished third of nine in the Junior Honda feature, and third of three in Light 160.

Just as important, during the week Isaak got to have time with his good friends including Carson Hocevar, Jake Garcia and Ryan Israel, while taking in racing at the Kalamazoo speedway, Lucas Oil track and the Brickyard 400 Sprint Cup race. Next stop: North Carolina.

Isaak heads back to Music City for mid-season fun race

Isaak only had to hear the words “hundred-lapper,” “guitar trophy” and “Nashville” to know what he wanted to do the July 4th weekend.

After the lengthy drive to Connecticut two weeks earlier, he had no concerns about the travel to Music City to race the Firecracker 100 at his favorite track with some of his favorite quarter midget racing friends. We arrived in time for Saturday morning practice, where it became so hot that his tires seemed to be melting as they hit the 154-degree asphalt.

By the time qualifying was about to start, though, it began to storm, pushing the long awaited event back by nearly two hours. And then after qualifying and running heat races, the skies threatened again just as he was lining up to race his Junior Honda 100-lap race. In an abundance of caution, the club postponed the race to Sunday morning.

We showed up bright and early at the track, made last minute preparations and headed to the hot chute for the 9 a.m. start. Isaak didn’t have the fastest car — both Jake Garcia and Aiden Baker were slightly faster — but he gave a seminar in passing and defensive driving that had many in the crowd wondering if he could pull off a win anyway.

Starting in the second spot, Isaak settled into third and then took second as Jake got sent to the back on a caution. Isaak stole first from Aiden on lap 75 and protected the position up to the mid-point red flag to allow the drivers to get a drink. He took off on the restart and continued to battle, losing Aiden’s threat when Aiden spun Isaak from behind on a green flag but gaining Jake as his new foe for first.

Isaak held the lead until there were 18 laps to go, when Jake made what Isaak could only admire as a “great pass.” Aiden, who had soared back to the lead pack, angled to put Isaak into third. But Isaak wisely determined he couldn’t hold off both cars, so he decided to fight to keep second. He held off Aiden’s challenge to the end, taking second in the eight-car field. After getting out of his car, he ran over to celebrate Jake’s victory. “He deserved it,” Isaak said happily.

Because we were late getting started and still far from home, we scratched out of the Junior Animal and Light 160 feature races so we could pack up and head home right after trophies. Got home late, but it was well worth it.

 

Isaak finishes strong at USAC .25 race at Little T

On almost a last-minute decision, we decided to make the 24-hour trek to Thompson, Connecticut, for Isaak to race Round 10 of the USAC .25 Next Gen series.

Isaak had a great time on the banked oval, winning two races (Junior Honda heat and Junior Animal B Main) while making many new friends and propelling himself to 2nd place overall in the Junior Honda standings with five races left in the series.

While there, the weather varied wildly from 100-degree heat to chilly and rainy. We had to adjust accordingly, even dealing with dew on the tires and fog by the time the Light 160 C Main came around. (Light 160 was so big there was an F main that, thankfully, we didn’t have to race.) Isaak said that fast, wild C Main was his favorite one of the weekend despite coming in seventh.

Isaak was thrilled to lead the Junior Animal B Main from green to checkers, fending off a furious challenge from his buddy Jake Garcia, who tried everything he could muster to shake Isaak from the front. He grabbed fifth in the A Main for a second straight top-five finish in the division.

He made the Junior Honda A Main directly from the heat race, starting in the third position. Early on, another driver spun Isaak from behind, putting him to the back of the pack. He made his way to the middle of the field where, about midway through, Gage Painter caught him and tried to pass. Even though Gage was faster, Isaak battled for the position and Gage couldn’t make his pass stick. They went back and forth for the fifth and sixth spots all the way to the finish, with Isaak winding up just a few inches short.

It was Isaak’s first Junior Honda finish outside the top three in the series, but still an exciting race and quite a respectable result considering the top notch competition. He enters the final third of the season in the chase, tied for second and looking forward to some fun competition down the home stretch. Next stop, Mini Indy for the annual Brickyard race.