Growing up FAST: Local boy graduates from karts to cars
Getting a driver’s license at the age of 16 is a right of passage for so many young people. But for “Nitro” Nick Sommers, he simply couldn’t wait that long.
The 14-year old petitioned the National Auto Sports Association for the right to drive and race full-sized automobiles this past year and has since earned a rookie permit provisional license, after completing a series of written and behind-the-wheel tests.
After all, he’s been buzzing around on four wheels at high speeds for half his life.
“I started driving around our house in a go kart at age 7,” Nick said. “I was racing by age 8.”
His father, Greg, said Nick’s thirst for racing started even before that.
“He started at 3 years old riding BMX bicycles in a diaper and couldn’t even talk,” Greg said.
The early interest in racing came as no surprise as wheel-based competition runs in the Sommers’ blood line.
Greg was an accomplished Harley motorcycle racer, even winning a world championship in 1981. He later moved on to drag racing, where he found a fair amount of success as well.
Now, Greg is his son’s mechanic, crew chief, travel partner, and biggest supporter along with brother Gage, 11.
Nick’s recent transition to full-sized autos comes on the heels of a wildly successful go-kart racing career.
At age 8, Nick’s first year in kart racing, he won the most improved driver of the year award. He followed that by placing third in the Prairie City Kart Club Championship Series Jr. one-two cycle class. At 10, Nick was running in two classes in the Prairie City Kart Club Championship Series and won them both. He also won Junior Driver of the Year from All Star Karting, also known as the International Kart Federation.
At age 11, Nick had moved into the larger karts and placed third in the Superkarts USA Pro Kart Series. At 12, he was running in only select big races, including the Lancaster Grand Prix where he placed fourth against kart drivers from all over the world.
It was the competition and drive to win that pushed Nick to compete at such a high level, he said.
“The thrill of winning, especially when you’re battling, and it’s hard to get,” he said of what is his favorite part of racing.
But that’s not what makes him so good, said Greg.
“He does not hang it out,” Greg said. “He’s very, very smooth and smart.”
Nick said he knows that keeping a good head is the only way to succeed in this sport.
“I’m consistent,” he said. “And that’s a big factor. And I can tell you what’s going on with the kart and what changes that need to be done to stay on top of the track.”
But, by age 13, Nick was getting too big for the kart series, so the Seven Hills eighth-grader decided to make the switch.
“Nitro” Nick now races a Mazda Miata in the Teen Mazda Challenge Series, which is a race program that was created to allow young race car drivers between the ages of 13 and 22 to compete in nationally sanctioned road race events.
“This is what I have to do to get better,” Nick said. “And this is the only thing I can do at this age.”
As a condition of Nick’s provisional license, he has to complete four races without incident.
“He has to run four races without dropping a tire off, without spinning out and without crashing, even if it’s not his fault,” Greg said, “because you have to be aware of your surroundings.”
Nick is one quarter of the way there after completing his first race last weekend at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows.
“Shifting is so different,” Nick said of the differences between kart and car racing. “It’s more than just going and not having to worry about anything but the other drivers on the track. It’s way different. It’s safer, a little more fun, and now I race against a bunch of people.”
This is just the beginning for “Nitro” Nick, a nickname he earned as a BMX racer that he said just stuck, as he has aspirations of one day racing Formula 1, like fellow Nevada County native Alexander Rossi. The Rossi family was actually instrumental in helping Nick find his way into the kart racing world, Greg and Nick said.
With all the success he’s had on the track, Nick also excels in the classroom, garnering honor roll-level grades every year, a requirement for him to continue chasing his racing dream, Greg said.
“I said, ‘We will make a deal. When you come home after school, I don’t want to ask if you have homework. I don’t want to ask if you have reports due. You take care of that, and I will take care of getting you the best equipment and getting you to the track. We’re a team,’” Greg said.
Nick has been on the honor roll ever since.
The road to this point hasn’t been without a lot of help from the community though, which also make up most of Nick’s sponsors, Greg said.
“A special thanks goes out to all the local businesses that help Team Nitro, including Fletcher’s Auto Glass, Mel’s Transmission, Plaza Tire and Auto Service and Pete’s Welding and Machine,” Greg said.
As for the immediate future, Nick said he will still compete in some of the major kart races like the upcoming Lancaster Grand Prix, but he also has another Mazda series race coming up next month.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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