---- — By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
BLOOMSBURG -- From the time he was 7, Bloomsburg resident Derek Steward can remember going to the race track.
The first-year 358 sprint car driver at Selinsgrove Speedway wasn't watching the likes of Barry Camp or Jim Nace do battle, rather, he was on the road with his cousin, Jason Kemp, helping him at Greenwood Valley Action Track and Linda's Speedway.
"My mom and dad (Denny and Daneen Steward) had gone to Selinsgrove quite a bit when they were younger," he said. "When my cousin Jason started racing micro sprints, it was at an age where I would like to have gone to Selinsgrove, but we were working on his car."
Steward, 24, is a construction inspector who received his associate degree in civil engineering from the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport. He graduated from Bloomsburg Christian High School where he played soccer.
When he turned 12, Steward started racing go-karts and, in 2005, he was the adult caged champion at Greenwood Valley.
"When we raced at Selinsgrove Raceway Park, we would sit there and say, 'it would be pretty cool to race on the big track one day, but it probably would never happen,'" he said.
Steward's go-kart career took him on a traveling schedule that included racing with the Pennsylvania Dirt Karting Association series, the Burris money series and on asphalt in New York state.
"I never raced a micro sprint," he said.
In the fall of 2011, Derek's brother Devin, who is two-and-half years younger, decided to quit go-kart racing.
"One day he approached us about getting into sprint car racing," Steward said.
Through the help of some friends, including fellow Bloomsburg 358 sprint car driver Ryan Kissinger and Midway Performance in Mount Carmel, they bought a 305 sprint car and raced with the PA Sprint Series.
"We ran two events at Clinton County with the 305," he said. "We put the car up for sale and within 24 hours it was sold and 24 hours later, we had a 358. By the end of June, we were racing at Selinsgrove.
"It was quite hectic in my first race in a sprint car," Steward noted. "Clinton County in its own, is a very small, tight race track. To put the kind of power in my hands in that confined space was a little nerve-wracking."
Steward was involved in an accident in his first night in the 305.
"We had a car flip in front of us and we had no place to go and we bent the axel," he said.
Steward ran five races in 2012 at Selinsgrove. He was thankful for the track's open practice sessions.
"One of the main things in going from a go-kart to a sprint car is that you have to be more aggressive to be a sprint car driver," he said. "I was a little bit relaxed in those five races last year. This year, I decided to come out of the gate and be aggressive."
Steward's season ended with a broken rear end and without any spare parts, the team decided to get ready for this year.
Steward has had help from other teams including the Maustellers and Kellers along with Matt Highland.
"Matt's got us going with a great shock program and is helping us to be organized which is essential in racing," he said.
Steward's rookie season got off to a rough start on March 30 when he flipped in the season-opening 358 sprint car feature.
Steward noted the team seemed to be 'snake bitten' from the start that night.
"The engine was giving us trouble in the heat race, we should have loaded up and went home," he said. "We got in the show and as we were coming out of four on the start, a car broke and the closing speed on a stopped car is quite quick. He was moving down the track and so was I was trying to avoid him, but I clipped his wheel and ended up flipping three times. It's not the way we wanted to start the season."
His brother Devin owns the car and they have sponsorship from Daneen's Family Salon, Reese Drafting Service, Commercial Stainless Inc., Scott Supply and DDP Photos. The crew consists of Devin and his wife Kate, Derek's wife, Janelle, his mom and dad and Fred Parr.
"The goal for this year, before the first race, was to run every race, stay out of trouble, win a heat race and get a top-five feature finish," Steward said. "Seeing that we shot two of those goals with the flip, we want to maintain consistency and learn more as a new team and go forward instead of backward."
Steward's sprint car career might be off to a rough start, but he's living a dream that few dare to chase.