---- — By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
MINERSVILLE -- Eric Riggins Jr. grew up in the shadows of the center of the NASCAR universe, Charlotte, N.C.
Yet the 18-year-old is in his third year of sprint car racing and a rookie at his new home track of Williams Grove Speedway.
Riggins Jr. spent the past few years traveling and racing 360-sprint car-sanctioned events. He began racing go-karts when he was 6.
"We raced our go-kart all over the south, Florida and the Midwest for 10 years and we won a lot of championships, but we never raced go-karts in Pennsylvania," he said.
His younger brother, Jesse, 15, races go-karts in the Charger Racing Chassis Dirt Oval Kart class.
The Carolina Panthers and western-style Carolina barbecue fan is enjoying the racing so far in his rookie year in a 410 in the sprint car capital of the world.
Along with his father, Eric Sr., crew chief Scott Vogelsong and girlfriend Constance Jordan, they leave Charlotte at 8 a.m. on Fridays to make the near eight-hour tow to Williams Grove.
"It's the closest place we can race a 410 week-in and week-out," he said. "We're used to travelling from racing our 360 sprint car in the south. If you really want to race, Pennsylvania has a lot of tracks to race at."
Riggins Jr. was the 2010 United Sprint Car Series Southern Thunder Series Rookie of the Year. He made his first trip to race in Pennsylvania last year at Williams Grove and Selinsgrove speedways with the United Racing Company in 360-sprint car sanctioned-events.
The family owns the race team and his father runs the family-owned Alpha Canvas Race Products, a company started by Eric's grandparents 25 years ago. Riggins Jr. is thankful for the addition of Vogelsong as his crew chief.
"We've changed the whole race team when he started helping us last year," he said. "Before Scott got there, I was by myself during the week trying to keep up a rig, a trailer and a race car. Scott is teaching me the way he knows on how to work on a car, how to get organized and working on the set-up. Now I am able to focus more on the driving side. We are definitely learning a lot and getting better each week"
This is Riggins' first-ever appearance in the Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speedweek.
"Things got off to a rough start and we had the flip at Lincoln, but hopefully we'll get it tuned around," he said.
He is 24th in Speedweek points through Hagerstown. He is also 26th in the points at Williams Grove.
Riggins Jr. said he had heard a lot about the Pennsylvania racing scene but never saw a race here.
"It's good racing," he said. "The tracks are bigger than we have in North Carolina and so it is taking time for us to get used to it. If you get good here, you can race anywhere."
He scored a top-10 finish his first time out at Lincoln Speedway.
"I'd like to be running in the top-10 with more consistency," he said. "That's going to be tough around here. I don't feel like it's going to be an unreachable goal."
The team has one 410 motor and is looking for sponsorship. "We have a pretty car, we just need somebody to put their name on it," he said.
He's been getting advice on racing in Pennsylvania from veteran Mike Erdley.
"Mike's been one of the people that we've been around a lot," he said. "I've asked Lance (Dewease) a couple of questions, but other than that, I've been on my own. Its been tough, but we are learning and we're taking it one day at a time."
Not a bad attitude to have when you're a rookie racing with the best winged sprint car drivers in the world on a weekly basis.