Young driver uses racing to raise autism awareness

Racing caught Jake Ruggles’ attention at an early age, but when he started competing in quarter midgets, the Kannapolis resident never envisioned the sport would allow him to support his younger brother in a special way.

Jake’s 11-year-old brother, Ryan, is autistic. The Ruggles family moved from Colorado to North Carolina when Jake was 6 years old because of the schools available to Ryan in the state.

Now 13, Jake decided in April – Autism Awareness month – that he wanted to create a paint scheme on his Allison Legacy Series car that resembled the one on his father’s Corvette, which has been used since 1998 in Open Road Racing.

The Northwest Cabarrus Middle School student, who is third in the Allison Legacy Series point standings, placed “Autism Speaks” logos on his car and puzzle pieces on the front of it.

Jake also placed a “Ryan’s Race” decal on his Legacy car, the same one that his father placed on his car shortly after Ryan was diagnosed with autism.

On June 23, Jake will help raise money for the Autism Society of North Carolina. At 6:30 p.m., Triad Sports Coverage will host Jake on an online radio show from Buffalo Wild Wings in Concord. That same night, the restaurant will donate 10 percent of its customers’ dinner bills to the North Carolina organization, and Jake will sign autographs.

Jake’s interest in racing began at age 6 when he and his father, Steve, watched NASCAR events together. He didn’t begin racing until two years later.

“We didn’t really know how to start (me in racing),” Jake said. “We found out about the quarter midget deal in Salisbury and went up to the track one night. They were racing; we checked it out; and we ended up coming home with my first car that night.”

Jake spent four years racing quarter midgets before moving to the touring Allison Legacy Series. In 2013 at age 12, Jake became the youngest competitor to win Rookie of the Year honors in the series.

“We just really like the program the Allison brothers have at the Allison Legacy Series,” Jake’s mother Shelby said. “I like how easy the Allisons are to work with. They’re great people and very helpful. We love to travel, so since it’s a touring series, we get to meet new people. Jake gets to experience different tracks. I just feel really good about the car (too).”

Former NASCAR driver and 1970 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Donnie Allison, whose sons founded the Allison Legacy Series, often gives advice to the young drivers.

“In the very beginning, he watched me and the line I ran,” Jake said about the elder Allison. “He told me how to adjust it. He’s also helped my dad some on how to change the car’s setup to make it better.”

Jake and his dad work on his Legacy car together. The teenager said he didn’t find it difficult to make the transition from his 300-pound quarter midget to the 1,655-pound Legacy car.

“The only thing I really had to learn was how to drive a bigger car, which was pretty easy, and how to shift,” Jake said. “Avoiding wrecks and passing people can be challenging at times.”

Jake, who enjoys meeting new people, expects to compete in the Allison Legacy Series until he wins a championship. He would then like to advance to NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East.

The next Allison Legacy Series race is June 21 at Dillon (S.C.) Motor Speedway.

Grissom eyes top five

Nearly halfway into the 16-race Southern Super Series schedule, Concord resident Kyle Grissom is close to a top five position in the standings. After seven races, Grissom is in sixth place, 21 points behind fifth-place Donnie Wilson.

The series’ next race is June 28 at Montgomery (Ala.) Motor Speedway.

Grissom is the son of 1993 Busch Series (now Nationwide) champion Steve Grissom.

Stricklin closing in on standings lead

Taylor Stricklin is in a tight battle with Trent Barnes for the limited late model track championship at Hickory Motor Speedway. The Mount Ulla resident trails the rookie from Whiteford, Md., by two points.

Stricklin is the grandson of former NASCAR driver Donnie Allison and the son of former NASCAR driver Hut Stricklin.