Young driver's heart races on Victory Lane

Frustrated with a sport that had provided more failures than successes, Riley Halverson had given up on Bandolero racing.

He tried golf for a spell. The 14-year old Concord resident eventually realized his heart was in Victory Lane and not on the eighteenth green.

It was last August that Riley convinced his parents to let him return to Bandolero car racing after a nine-month hiatus. His fortunes reversed themselves almost immediately, and after a successful winter and spring, Riley is leading the Outlaw Division in points in Charlotte Motor Speedway's Summer Shootout Series.

The son of Cathey and Rodney Halverson, who has a 14-year career as a NASCAR fabricator, Riley competed for the first time just before his 10th birthday. His only interest in racing at the time was because of his dad's involvement.

Riley's first-ever practice run on a track started with a bang. During his first time on the track at Concord Motor Speedway, Riley never let up on the gas as he made his first turn and drove the car onto the top of the wall.

After a couple of races at Concord, Riley entered the Summer Shootout Series in 2007.

"It was intimidating being on the same big track as the NASCAR drivers," said Riley. "I spun out a couple times."

His best result in either of his first two seasons was a sixth-place finish in 2008. Riley was disappointed he wasn't consistently finishing closer to the top.

The Halversons sold the Bandolero and its trailer and bought Riley a set of golf clubs. In his first junior tournament at Rocky River Golf Club, Riley had a better finish than in any of his races, placing fifth.

Halverson continued working on other drivers' cars during the nine months Riley wasn't racing. Riley apprenticed in the garage and developed an appreciation and understanding for how a race car worked.

"We were going to the grocery store," said Cathey Halverson. "And he just said 'I want to race. I don't want to golf anymore.'"

Halverson bought two used Bandoleros last summer, giving Riley enough time to compete in the final two races of the Summer Shootout Series. He wrecked in both, but still had top 10 finishes.

Last fall, Riley won for the first time at a race in Dillon, S.C. There were four entries, and Riley says the other three ran slowly, but it "still felt good" to get his first victory.

At Charlotte Motor Speedway, Riley finished fourth in a 100-lap race, the Spooktacular, in early November and consistently ran fourth and fifth in the Winter Heat Series races. In February, Riley took second place at a Daytona Speedweek event in Orlando, Fla.

Riley won the points championship at Rockingham Speedway's Spring Fling that concluded in early May. He went on to win three out of five races at the Battle of the Bayou in Louisiana in early June. Riley is also competing in series at Rockingham and Atlanta.

The Halversons attribute Riley's recent success to their new association with Daryn Weatherman and his racing team, Gateway Legends, which runs Legends and Bandolero Cars in the Summer Shootout Series. Weatherman's son Clayton, 11, races in the Bandolero Bandits Division.

Riley's car stays in Weatherman's Mooresville shop, where it is set up and serviced by Gateway Legend's general manager Brian Maine. Riley stays in tune with his car by changing the oil and working with the gears, clutch and other parts.

An aspiring NASCAR driver, Riley feels his next step in racing could be behind the wheel of a Legends car.