Hummel improving in first year of sprint car racing

Former go-kart and micro sprint racer Jake Hummel, of Sunbury, is learning the ropes as a rookie 360 sprint car driver at Selinsgrove Speedway.

SELINSGROVE — The sound of a field of sprint cars exploding out of turn four at the drop of the green flag race is like little else in sports.

Reactions by youngsters witnessing the spectacle for the first time are varied, but often include tears or screams of fright and demands that their parents take them home.

Perhaps the reaction by then 8-year-old Jake Hummel might have been a harbinger of what was to come for the Sunbury rookie go-kart racer.

Hummel had just begun racing go-karts at Selinsgrove Raceway Park, which operates on Friday nights inside the Selinsgrove Speedway when his dad, Hollis, took him to a Saturday night racing program at Selinsgrove for the first time.

Although it took another 17 years, that experience led to what Hummel, now 25, is doing today — competing as a rookie in Selinsgrove’s competitive 360 sprint car class.

“When the sprint cars went by, and I was small, and they about rattled my chest and had my ears ringing, right then I knew it was something I wanted to do,” Hummel said last week before heading to the track for engine starts.

Hummel, who spent several years racing go-karts and 270cc and 600cc micro sprints, said his favorite division to watch is late models.

“I am a huge late model fan, but as a driver, my attitude, my personality — I am definitely all out — and the sprints just fit that, and I always kind of knew that,” said the 2012 Shikellamy High School graduate.

“I like to drive (sprint cars) but those late model guys can drive, without a doubt,” he said. “In the sprint cars, if you can put it to the floor and keep it straight, you will be all right; in the late models, they’re all over the place.”

Hummel, who is employed as a pipefitter and plumber by Worth and Co., of Pipersville, had a lot of success in go-karts (for five years), 270s (three years) and 600s, but he admitted that moving into a sprint car was humbling.

He took a few years off from racing, then ran his 600 micro last season.

He would likely still be doing that this year, but he saw a post on a racing forum about someone looking to trade a 360 sprint car. Hummel took them up on it.

“The car was pretty much brand new,” he said.

His father, who was responsible for starting Jake’s go-kart career by taking him along to watch a friend race at SRP, said, “We talked about doing it (sprint car racing) for a couple of years and at the end of last year we decided to make the jump and try it for a year.”

Hollis added, “When he goes out there on the track, I get pretty nervous.”

He is proud of his son’s progress and Jake is happy as well, and already looking forward to the 2020 season.

“Every week we come down here we keep getting more excited and he keeps getting better every week,” Hollis said. “He’s actually starting to get more comfortable in the car.”

Jake agreed.

“I believe that every time I got in this car, I improved. From the start of the year — probably everybody here has almost five years’ experience in a full-sized car and I have about 10 or 12 races under my belt — but we started off the year like two seconds off the pace and we chopped it down every week,” Hummel said.

He said they cut it down to about a half second.

“Even one night we started way in the back and the leaders caught us, but once they caught me, I stayed with them,” he said.

His best finish was an eighth early in the season in a United Racing Company race at Big Diamond Raceway, Minersville, and he has a best of ninth at Selinsgrove. On Saturday night, Hummel won his first heat race.

His first night in a full-size sprint car was memorable.

“Another competitor (Selinsgrove’s) Michael Walter (who pits next to Hummel) said, ‘You should start in the back,’” Hummel said.

He told Hummel that he starts in the back and gives the others a little distance.

Hummel didn’t understand, but he took the advice, and is glad he did.

“So I lay back and we’re driving through and don’t Cody Keller (of Selinsgrove) and Mallie Shuster (of Newville) go flipping. and I about drove underneath them. It paid to lay back on the start and get that out of the way,” Hummel said.

His initial reaction to the flip?

“A little bit of fear, but probably more excitement. I think the fear made me a little more excited. I like to scare myself,” he joked.

Hummel said that with his low-budget operation, his main goal in his first year was to “go out and show I can run the car, show some speed, keep it in one piece and just get some good finishes. I think I have done that.’’

He admitted that the success of his other racing had him believing he could sit in a sprint car and immediately go fast.

“It was a bit humbling, but I am glad I stuck with it, kept grinding and improving every week,” he said. “This is a whole different animal, there’s no doubt about that.”

Both he and his dad are happy that things are going better as the season winds down, but also a little sad that they only have three races to build on that momentum.

“(The end of the year) is when you want to be fast,” Jake said. “No one remembers what you did at the beginning of the year.”

Nest year, he hopes to get more sponsors to allow him to upgrade his equipment and get a new trailer. His only sponsor is Jeff’s Auto Body and Recycling, of Paxinos.

“He’s helped me out my whole life,” Jake said of owner Jeff Kurtz.

“I’ll be back next year, and I feel like we can run a top-five,” he said.