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Charlotte racer, 9, challenges himself

By Reid Creager
Correspondent

Daniel Wilk could have chosen to continue dominating beginner-level youth drivers.

But that wasn’t going to help him turn the corner as fast as he wanted.

So the Pineville 9-year-old recently began racing against a lot of older kids while participating in the Summer Shootout Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he placed in the top five several times.

His latest accomplishment came Aug. 10, when he qualified for the pole position at Concord Motorsports Park in the first of a 10-week series of 20 races.

“I just told my dad that I wanted a challenge,” Daniel said of the decision a few months ago to move up to the Bandolero Bandits from the beginner division. He had just won a race at Concord.

His father, Dennis, said he warned his son about the difficulties that could lie ahead.

“I told him, ‘OK, but you’ll be racing against older kids, 11 and 12 years old.’ He said, ‘That’s fine. I don’t care.’ ”

Daniel’s biggest achievement came Nov. 10, when he won the 20-lap Spooktacular race at Rockingham Motor Speedway’s Little Rock oval at the beginner level. The excitement is still evident in his voice.

“It was really fun. ... I won the first race and then in the second segment, I stayed in first and pulled away. Then I sorta almost lost the race but finally won.”

Daniel, a rising fifth-grader at Pineville Elementary, also won a lot of winter heats at Charlotte Motor Speedway before he made the jump. He’s already noticed some challenges at the higher level, most notably passing other drivers.

“It’s just really hard in the division we’ve been racing in, at the Summer Shootout,” he says. “There are so many fast cars. It’s just really hard to pass because they are either blocking you or some are really slow and you have trouble getting past them.”

Says his father: “It’s setting up for the pass and getting it done. ... But he’s really starting to get the hang of it. Now for him the big thing is the craft of racing, the little tricks you learn over time.”

Daniel’s car often reaches speeds of about 70 mph. But given his history of driving – he started in go-karts at age 6 and won in kids’ and men’s leagues – and the cars’ NASCAR-quality safety features, fear isn’t a big issue for the boy, his dad or his mom, Gillian.

“I’ve seen some pretty hard wrecks, and I have yet to see anybody get seriously hurt,” David Wilk says.

His son says his peers at school think his driving a fast race car is “awesome. They really want to try it out.”

Both father and son seem to relish playing David to some other Goliaths at this point – all part of the challenge.

“I’m a first-time race car owner, and we’re up against a lot of people with more money and experience,” Dennis Wilk says. “Some of them are national-level guys. But that’s OK.”

Not surprisingly, Daniel says he wants to become a NASCAR driver like his idol, Jimmie Johnson.

But his dad is quick to remind him: “The plan is, you’re still going to college, buddy. Right now, we’re just learning and having fun – father and son, having fun. That’s what it’s all about.”

Reid Creager is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at reidcreager@yahoo.com.
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