University City

14-year-old racer looks to follow in dad's steps

John Hunter Nemechek always wondered what it felt like to be his dad.

The son of NASCAR racer and Mooresville resident Joe Nemechek, John practically grew up on the backside of a racetrack.

The racing didn't stop after John's birth in 1997. He just went along for the ride.

When Joe, who started racing in NASCAR's Nationwide Series in 1999 and in the Cup Series in 1993, went to Victory Lane, John toddled along, experiencing the thrill of his father's victories before he even turned a year old.

"As soon as I had him, we were on the road with Joe," said his mother, Andrea Nemechek. "He's been everywhere."

John, who turned 14 on June 11, didn't take long to decide he wanted to do more than watch from pit road. When he turned 3, he worked hard to get the training wheels off his bike so he could earn his first motorcycle.

John's racing career began at 5. He raced and won on dirt bikes, go-karts and quarter-midget cars.

The next step didn't surprise his mother.

"I knew the car thing was coming," said Andrea. "He loves it so much."

John received his first race car last year, a three-quarter size replica of a stockcar. His dad taught him to drive it and now he races at high speeds just like Joe.

"He taught me a lot. He's been racing since he was 13," said John. "I'm just following in his footsteps."

John has driven the car to speeds of 110 mph, not quite as fast as his father's car, but still 40 miles over North Carolina's maximum speed limit of 70 mph. He races in the Allison Legacy Series, where most of the drivers have three to four years of experience on him.

The age difference hasn't seemed to matter much to John, who has completed five races this year with four top-five finishes. The one time he finished out of the top-five, his engine blew up.

"It's all about running up front and finishing good and finishing consistent," said John.

John said he already knows his passion in life lies in racing. And early in life, he's already learned the difficulties associated with it.

Wrecks are a nature of the sport, he said.

"It's not that scary. You just hold on," he said. "When you wreck, it's like in slow motion."

John said the worst wreck he had so far involved a spinout on one of the turns. The car slid through the grass and into a barrier before flipping.

"The nose was dragging the ground and the rear end was probably about 8 feet up in the air," he said.

John has also been in charge of securing his own sponsorships, and they've come with requirements.

"He has to do good in school," said Joe. "He's supposed to get As and Bs. That's part of their stipulation with him."

John said he understands making bad grades means the money stops. But grades have never been a problem for the Davidson Day student, who made the headmaster's list this semester with straight As.

"John Hunter is very organized and very dedicated to what he's got to do," said Andrea. "He gets it."

The thrill of competing keeps him going, said John. And the speed doesn't hurt either.

"It's fun to go out there and race people," he said.

John has even taken to racing his dad. Joe said the two will go out to the track for practice and sometimes run 50-lap match races.

"We'll just run, run, run," John said

Joe said he doesn't hold back during the practice laps and will crowd his son's car to simulate real races.

"Couple times we went and tested, I would take a car just like his with a big seat in it, and I'm not scared to hit (his car)," said Joe.

"We'll go out there and rub doors. ... We race hard."

And who usually wins?

"'Bout all of them, he has, when it's all said and done," said Joe.

John always wondered what it felt like to be his dad on the track. Now he knows.