The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

June 12, 2014

Motorsports: Chad Hollenbeck is racing's late bloomer

SELINSGROVE — Dirt tracks are full of race drivers who have competed in the sport since they climbed into a go-kart as a pre-teenager.

There are also those who didn’t race karts, but have been around the races as fans for most of their lives.

Selinsgrove Speedway late model regular Chad Hollenbeck is not one of them.

“Quite honestly, until I was 30, I didn’t know what a race car was,” Hollenbeck said before the start of Saturday’s program.

A friend and co-worker who drove a limited late model on the weekends challenged nonrace fan Hollenbeck to find out first-hand what the sport was all about.

“We worked together and every Monday, he would come in telling me all these fantastic stories and I would say, ‘Why are you doing this; it doesn’t make sense.’”

Hollenbeck’s buddy, Jamie Griffiths, then a regular at Penn Can Speedway in Susquehanna, issued a challenge: “He said, ‘rather than me having to explain it to you, I have an old car; why don’t you come out to the track and drive it.’”

Hollenbeck accepted and took the ride, in an old steel-block late model, that would change his life.

“Once I (drove the car), I was hooked and that’s where it all began,” said Hollenbeck, 44, who lives in Kingsley, near Montrose, in Susquehanna County.

Griffiths got out of racing a few years ago, just when Hollenbeck started to become more serious. Hollenbeck raced at Penn Can for several years before the track dropped the late model class. He continued to race limiteds until switching to a super late model five years ago.

He is looking for his first win at Selinsgrove, but is seventh in points.

Hollenbeck, who operates a blue-stone business in his home area, races twice weekly: Fridays at Bedford and Saturdays at Selinsgrove.

He came into the season with the sole purpose of becoming more competitive.

“(Seventh place) was totally inadvertent. We really didn’t want to run for points anywhere this year,” he said. “My wife (Shelly) and I have some trips coming up so we’re not going to be able to keep up with the points. It’s kind of unfortunate.”

The season started well for Hollenbeck, as he qualified for nine of the 13 shows at the speedweek series in Florida in February against some of the country’s best drivers.

It was a huge confidence boost, but the team couldn’t keep the momentum going after returning to the area.

“We were expecting much more out of ourselves, better than what we’ve been producing,” he said.

But he said he and his crew are nothing if not persistent, and he has seen signs of better results to come.

He had been running consistently in the top 10 at Selinsgrove, although a pair of crashes last week left him in 17th place.

“The one thing (missing so far) is experience on our crew. We are not a second-generation  racing team. The guys we have assembled are just learning as we are going, but the amount of advancement we have made in five years, I am very happy with.

“A lot of these guys we are racing against have been racing for 20 to 25 years, so for us to do what we’re doing ... we’re knocking on the door. Every week we’re getting a little closer.”

He said he is happy with how far they have come, but “it’s not where we want to stop.”

Hollenbeck’s crew consists of crew chief Charles Welch along with Dan Stone (no relation to the standout late model driver of the same name) and Curt Tunilo Jr., whose father is a former race, and one-time feature winner, at Selinsgrove for car owner Gary Dyer.

Despite the lack of wins, Hollenbeck said they always have fun.

“Sometimes you reflect on just how much fun you’re having and we do it to have a good time. But we also have to look at it as part of our job, too, because to do better at this, we need to spend the time and the effort that’s necessary to be running with the quality of guys that are here.”

Oh, and the guy who got him started in this sport: He still comes to some of Hollenbeck’s races at Selinsgrove.

“I guess that’s the big question mark: Is he still a friend?’’ Hollenbeck joked. “Yes, he absolutely is. (But) I blame him for all of this.”

Hollenbeck said that, knowing the costs incurred in racing, he is fortune that he didn’t become involved earlier in his life.

“As the old saying goes, ‘The sure-fire way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a big one.’”

Hollenbeck remains confident that, despite the drawbacks, racing will remain a big part of his life for years to come.

“We’re not worried about winning. Well, we want to win, but we have to learn how to win races, and that’s what we’re attempting to do.”

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