Austin Nemire, a sophomore at Sylvania Northview, will race in the King of the Wing Sprint Car Shootout on Wednesday. THE BLADE/ISAAC HALE
At an age when most children are preparing for their first years of elementary school or spending another day on the playground, Austin Nemire was already behind the wheel of his first car.
As the case with some novice drivers, there were moments when his inexperience showed. A few months shy of his sixth birthday, the sun got in Nemire’s eyes and he crashed a quarter-midget car into a wall at the Lucas County Recreation Center in Maumee.
His grandfather, Jerry, pulled him aside and told him to reconsider the thought of driving. It was an unusual request, given his grandfather’s racing background. But Nemire wouldn’t hear of it. Quitting was no option.
Ten years later, Nemire continues to race. The 15-year-old Sylvania resident has won five of his first six races this season on the USAC Honda HPC Midget Midwest Pavement circuit, and he will drive Wednesday in the King of the Wing Sprint Car Shootout at Toledo Speedway. The three-race event will include the USAC Honda HPC Midget open-wheel race on the speedway’s quarter-mile oval.
“It takes a little bit of luck,” Nemire said of his five wins on short tracks in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. “But it also takes good equipment and skill.”
Nemire is still a year away from earning his Ohio driver’s license, but competes in a driving classification that draws drivers who are as young as 13 and as old as 60.
Nemire explained that 13 is the minimum age for driving in his classification, and different racing circuits have different minimum ages. Toledo Speedway requires drivers in its weekly races to be 14 years old.
“It’s a lot of competition,” said Nemire, who will be a sophomore at Northview this fall. “There’s a lot to do with it. There’s bigger motors and it’s fast racing, but you’ve got to be competitive and you’ve got to be smooth when you’re driving, because one little thing can upset your car and you can crash.”
Several high-profile incidents involving sprint car drivers have given Nemire some pause, including two last summer: NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart broke his right leg during a sprint car race, and former NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was killed in a sprint car race after his steering locked up and his car hit a wall on a New Jersey track.
Being safe and being smart in any kind of sprint car, Nemire explained, hinges upon following safety guidelines and having updated equipment.
“You have to be safe when you’re running these at this type of speed,” Nemire said. “You make sure the belts are locked in and tight when [you] go out, and make sure everything is hooked up right. The belts, helmet, equipment, and everything needs to be proper.”
The first time Jerry Nemire put his grandson — a fourth-generation driver — on a track, his grandson noticed that the steering in his go-kart was finicky. He told his grandfather as much and, within minutes, Jerry Nemire recognized that his grandson had a certain understanding of driving — one that likely protected him.
“Next thing I know, he’s calling out that the steering is falling off the front end,” said Jerry Nemire, an Erie, Mich., resident. “I thought, ‘this kid knows more than I do, and he’s five and a half!’”
Less than 10 years later, Nemire continues to drive and has maintained a curiosity for driving.
In a way, Nemire is coming full-circle by competing at Toledo Speedway. Nemire’s great-grandfather, Kenny, was killed in a racing accident in 1957 at Raceway Park. Yet, the loss of his father didn’t deter Nemire’s grandfather, who drove stock cars competitively for 31 years and went against current NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in the USAC, including Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
“It’s what he wants to do,” Jerry Nemire said. “He wants to go further, and I know that feeling.”
Nemire’s classmates aren’t necessarily familiar with his diversion, and Nemire looks at competing at a track only a few miles from his home as a chance to expose his peers to auto racing. He anticipates several of his classmates to be in the stands Wednesday at Toledo Speedway.
“For this race, I want to get a lot of people out here so they can understand what it’s like,” Nemire said. “There’s quite a few people who are coming out to support us, so hopefully we can run good.”