In a lane of his own

Teenage race car driver Michael Neary gears up for his first season in the Hanlon Realty U.S. Legends Series

Adam Pike
Kicker News

Many teenagers live life in the fast lane, but perhaps none as literally as Portugal Cove’s Michael Neary.

Although the 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Prince of Wales Collegiate doesn’t have his driver’s licence yet, he’s no stranger to being behind the wheel of a car.

Michael Neary is a student at Prince of Wales Collegiate in St. John’s. In his spare time, he drives race cars. Adam Pike/Kicker

“People are quite surprised when I first tell them I drive race cars,” said Michael.

Neary first started racing in the summer of 2015, when he was only 13 years old. His vehicle was a go-kart, and his track was the parking lot of the Jack Byrne Arena. After winning nine races in his first year, he was ready for tougher competition.

“I kind of fell out of that; it didn’t quite go where I wanted to,” he said. “But when we heard about Bandolero and the oval track at Avondale, I had to sign up.”

Changing lanes

The Eastbound International Speedway in Avondale is a sanctioned NASCAR race track, famous for hosting Bandolero and Legends car racing.

Bandolero racing is an entry-level of racing for children between the ages of eight to 16. Miniature stock cars are the vehicle of choice, capable of reaching speeds upwards of 80 kilometres per hour.

Once drivers hones their skills, they often make the jump to Legends racing –  a jump Neary himself made this winter. He recently returned from a trip to Florida where he raced in the 2018 Legends Cars Winter Nationals. It was his first race in the Legends Semi-pro division.

“Out of almost 40 drivers, I was one of three or four rookies,” said Neary. “The competition down there is a whole lot harder for sure.”

In Legends racing, car bodies are modelled after classic American automobiles and are powered with Yamaha motorcycle engines. The cars are larger and more powerful than those used in Bandolero racing.

Peace in the driver’s seat

Michael Neary poses beside his #23 Bandolero car. Neary races in both the Bandolero and Legends series at the Eastbound Speedway. Submitted photo/Michael Neary Racing.

No matter the vehicle he drives, Neary feels at peace when he sits in the driver’s seat.

“For me, being in the car is my happy place,” he said. “My mind kind of goes blank and everything comes naturally.”

Behind every good racer is a solid pit crew. Michael’s support team consists of parents Carl and Julianna, and sister Michelle.

“We love it, it’s become sort of a family thing,” said Carl Neary. “Everyone is excited on race day, everyone plays their own part.”

Not many teenagers want to spend a Friday night in with their family, and it’s something his father cherishes.

“Our Friday night ritual is making race programs,”  said Carl Neary. “Mom does the printing and we’re all out at the kitchen table folding them and stapling them.”

Racing for a reason

During races, the Neary family sells the programs at the track for $2 each. All proceeds go to the Learning Disabilities Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (LDANL), an association with close ties to the Neary family.

“Michael has a learning disability,” said Carl. “This year we partnered with LDANL to raise awareness about learning disabilities.”

Last year, the Neary family raised more than $1,500 for the Learning Disabilities Association. They hope to achieve similar success in 2018.

Michael is counting down the days until the start of racing season, but one challenge still remains – obtaining his driver’s licence. One would think his skills from the track would translate to success on the streets of St. John’s, but Michael is still getting used to the two-way traffic.

“Having cars coming at you is something totally new to me,” said Michael Neary. “It’s a little bit scary when it first happens.”

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