One to watch |

One to watch

Pieter Rossi pitched the proposition as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

His wife said she should have known better.

Still, she gave her approval and eagerly accepted her role behind the camcorder to capture the high-speed occasion, as her husband raced around a track in a Champ car and her son, Alexander, did the same in a go-kart at the Las Vegas International Speedway.

“I was on top of a building, diligently filming every second, because this was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Dawn Rossi, with more than a hint of sarcasm.

Pieter recalls first telling his wife about the trip to Vegas, but says the context of “once in a lifetime” might have been miscontrued.

“Because I’ve been working since leaving school, I haven’t had the chance to do something I wanted to do,” he said. “That was just one time in my life that I had the opportunity and resources to do it.

“From that point on, though, I thought ‘this is something I’d like to continue to do.'”

Either way, six days later, the family headed back to Nevada City with more than just memories of that motor sports moment in mind. And Dawn soon started hearing talk of “driving schools” and “arrive and drive” programs.

It didn’t take long for her to realize that “the boys” were hooked.

“The ‘once in a lifetime’ thing needs to be re-phrased,” Dawn said. “‘A preview of a lifetime’ – maybe that’s what it needs to be.”

The green flag flies

Pieter and Alexander had shared a seduction with speed for several years prior to that first opportunity to climb behind the wheel. When Alexander was still sitting in a stroller, the two attended a race at Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey. That trip, like their later one to Vegas, only fed their fascination.

Truth be told, Pieter said he’s been a fan of auto racing since his own father took him to Ontario Motor Speedway, east of Los Angeles, as a child. He looks back on that trip fondly, as well as another to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1976 at age eight. Those memories are especially special to him due to the fact his dad died when he was just nine years old.

And so, Laguna Seca eventually became a motor sports mecca for Pieter and Alexander, returning each year to watch the wheels go round and round – and apparently to gather information on how to one day be the ones steering them.

It wasn’t long after returning from their Las Vegas experiment two years ago that father and son were taking the green flag on a regular basis at Infineon Raceway, formerly known as Sears Point, in Sonoma.

Pieter proved to be a quick study in his first full year of racing formula cars at Infineon, capping the 2003 season with a win in the year’s final race.

But it was his boy who was turning heads by year’s end.

“I just love the speed, being able to drive and I love the competition of it,” Alexander said. “Mainly, it’s the speed, trying to go as fast as possible.

“I was a little nervous at first, but I got used to it.”

After completing a six-month “arrive and drive” karting series, which had him returning to Infineon once a month to race in a ride provided by the program, Alexander soon showed he was ready to up the ante.

He won the pole in his first qualifying effort and took second place the first time he entered a race in the series.

Beginner’s luck?

His parents certainly didn’t think so.

Dawn and Pieter were behind him the whole way, including the $3,000 they eventually spent on their son’s own kart – which was quickly proven to be a wise investment.

“We just love our boy,” Pieter said. “We really have a gifted boy, who’s fast and good at what he does.”

A rookie in victory lane

Alexander entered the Jim Russell Championship Karting Series at Infineon last May, competing in the Junior Sportsman Class, which includes drivers from 12 to 15 years old.

But by the time the 5-foot, 3-inch, 87-pounder- who required an additional 30 pounds of lead weight strapped to the car for him to be a legal entrant – hit the gas pedal in the series’ first race, Alexander was just 11. He would not to turn 12 years old until September, long after the majority of the season’s six races had been run.

That probably didn’t go far in easing any frustration of his 15-year-old opponents as they watched him walk away with the season’s championship trophy.

“He is the youngest winner we have ever seen in this class,” said Russell racing official Ric Shaw. “Alexander showed a lot of determination and maturity to capture this title from older drivers with a lot more experience.”

He drove his No. 16 to four wins and two second-place finishes on the challenging 12-turn kart course at Infineon. And for doing so, in addition to a shiny victory cup, Alexander also earned a $3,000, three-day racing course in formula cars at Infineon.

That prize, though, will have to wait three years. The minimum age for drivers taking the wheel on the formula track is 15 years old.

Along the way to the title, though, Alexander was awarded another honor.

At the midseason point, Emmick Racing, a Sacramento-based leading manufacturer of competition karts, added him to its team and rolled out a pair of racing chassis for his use.

“Alexander has a great future in this sport,” said company president Ron Emmick. “He has the concentration and competitive spirit to become a real star in the motor sports arena.”

Formulating his future

He dreams of being a Formula 1 driver.

And when Alexander awakes each morning, the first thing he sees, before heading off for his days as a Forest Lake Christian School seventh grader, serves as confirmation that dreams can, in fact, come true.

On the table next to his bed, an arrangement of tall trophies – those of the first place variety – command immediate attention.

Across the room, the top shelf of his desk offers additional display space for his hard-earned hardware, as well as a reminder of where he wants to go and how he plans to get there.

As Alexander completes his homework each night, a myriad of motivational motifs are the decor above his work space.

One is a self-scissored cutout of the Infineon kart course, constructed from memory on loose leaf school paper and colored by a yellow highlighter.

Another is the complete schedule of the upcoming Formula 1 season.

The most eye-catching of all, however, is a photo of Alexander and his kart – though not one with him behind the wheel nor of him with another trophy held high.

It’s a shot of him with wrench in hand, working on his ride.

“Mom put that up,” he explains, “to show me what hard work does.”

He’s learned that lesson well, evidenced in the straight A’s that clutter his report card.

His passion for racing extends into his education, for reasons more than just the family’s rule that if he doesn’t hit the books, he won’t be hitting the track. He enjoys math the most, which becomes apparent in his widening eyes and smile when speaking of the subject – especially how he relates it to racing.

“If racing didn’t work out, which would be such a bummer, I really enjoy math,” said Alexander, who currently is studying pre-Algebra. “I use math with the whole geometry of the kart. When you adjust things like the toe of the front, you have to know math, the fractions and percentages. The tire pressure, average speed and RPMs, that’s all math.”

And apparently, it all adds up to a winning formula.

It’s a family affair

Because of the hectic race schedule he keeps – the family plans to stay home a full five weekends this year – you won’t find Alexander in front of the TV on many Saturday mornings.

“I do like cartoons, though,” he said. “I just don’t have much time for them.”

Instead, Alexander will be eyeing race tracks all around the Northern California region of the International Karting Federation – which includes treks to Nevada and Oregon.

And at each stop, for both testing and racing, he’ll be joined by dad.

“The time I’ve spent with him in the last year, I just can’t describe how much it has meant to our relationship,” Pieter said. “The amount of hours on the road, the weekends together, just the two of us. There’s a lot of talk about everything, not just racing.”

“And (Dawn) is so supportive. She loves to go to the track on race weekends. This year Alexander has found something he is gifted at and because of that, because of his passion for it, the family is passionate about it.”

The “Racing Rossis,” as they became known at Infineon, serve as their own pit crew and are somewhat learning the ins and outs of racing together.

“It’s been a bonding experience,” Alexander said. “We really enjoy having our weekends together and trying to work things out (in the pits). A lot of people have taught us, like Ron Emmick, he’s helped me every step of the way.

“It’s been a lot of hard work for both of my parents, and myself. We’re just trying to get as much experience as possible.”

And the fact they’re doing it together makes those long weekends away from home fly by with family fun.

“We’re all working toward a common goal, being a support system for each other” said Dawn. “That kind of stuff is what it’s all about.”

It’s also, Alexander says, about the joy he finds behind the wheel at high speeds. Something that he says already has mom preparing for when he reaches the legal driving age in California.

“She says my first car is going to be a four-cylinder,” he said with a smile. “Then I can go to a six and then maybe work my way up to an eight.

“Why (is my kart) No. 16? I don’t know. Maybe, it’s because I can’t wait until I am 16.”

– Freelance writer Don Fultz contributed to this story.

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