He doesn’t have a license to drive yet, but Fenwick High School sophomore Jack Mitchell is going 145 mph.
He’s 15 years old now, but he was 13 when he first slipped into a fire suit, popped on a helmet and plopped down in the driver’s seat at Elkhart Lake’s Road America in Wisconsin. It was supposed to be just a free, one-hour test drive, a gift from his Dad, John, who had taken a liking to racing. But Jack dropped the hammer and took off, leaving nothing but smoke and bewilderment in his wake.
“He was doing between 100 to 130 mph and some pit crew guys looked at me and asked what kind of experience he had racing cars,” recalls John. “I told them he didn’t have any. They were astonished at how well he was handling the car.”
A few weeks later, Dad thought he’d show his son a thing or two about racing. The two jumped into separate cars, stormed out of the pits, and hit the track. Something made a guttural swoosh sound as it zipped past John. It was his oldest son, on his way to a newfound hobby or possibly a future career in racing.
“Yeah, he just blew past me. I knew then he had some special talent in racing to go along with his passion for it,” says John, a doctor who practices out of Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee. “I researched the sport and determined that this was an opportunity to teach him responsibility to go along with that passion. I knew that even if he doesn’t go pro as a racer, he would grow to be a mature young man with the help of competing in the sport.”
Jack quickly became a national contender. Last September he won the Skip Barber Regional Auto Race, making it the sixth victory of his young career. He’s traveled all over the country and recently signed with Brian Graham Racing to race in Canada this summer in the Toyo Tires F1600 Championship. He will also be competing in the pre-race of the Montreal Formula One Race in June.
The rumbling of the engines, the tricky techniques of navigating numerous turns at high speeds, the adrenaline fueled straightaways — it’s all a rush for Jack.
“It’s exhilarating, a challenge, different from other sports,” he says. “It’s a 24/7 sport; you don’t ever really stop thinking about it.”
Well, you have to divert from it a bit to do your homework on the plane ride to races, though traveling hasn’t proved detrimental to Jack’s grades at Fenwick. He’s carrying a 4.0 grade-point average.
“The goal is to go fast and focus on school at the same time,” he says. “I’m a little different than many of the other racers I compete against in that they are older or home-schooled. I like going to Fenwick. I like the teachers and the friendships I have formed there.”
Despite his talents on the track, Jack hasn’t been immune to crashes. He’s had his share of spinouts. One crash at Virginia International Speedway still sits firmly in his father’s mind.
“There was crash and Jack got knocked around. He didn’t know what had happened. He asked the pit crew over the radio if he had flipped over, to which the guy responded, ‘No, there’s a car on top of you.’ It was a pretty scary moment.”
How fast has he gone?
“About 175 mph,” answers Jack’s father with a chuckle, “but don’t tell his mom that.”
Don’t tell Carla that Jack would like to end up racing an Indy car. Well, she’s probably already aware, since Jack’s been officially declared a “road to Indy driver.” The good news is her son’s aware of the work that needs to be done to fulfill his dream, not to mention he’s got something to fall back on if racing doesn’t pan out.
“It’s hard to put a reality to the Indy driver thing because I’ll need to find some sponsors and some finances to carry on down the road, but I sure would like to continue racing for as long as possible. I also have aspirations of entering the medical field at some point.”
Jack turns 16 next month and there’s a red hatchback Mazda Speed 3 waiting in the garage. How fast does it go?
He pauses, and then offers, “I’m not supposed to find out.”