Originally created 09/23/04

Student works way up in racing world



Franklin Futrelle has raced in Puerto Rico, Canada and just about everywhere in between.

The 18-year-old sped his Van Dieman race car into second place this year in the Cooper Tire Championship Series, sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America.

Futrelle started going to races with his dad when he was five, fell in love with the sport, and decided he wanted in on the action. Convincing mom, though, was a challenge.

"One weekend she went out of town for work, and my dad bought me a racing go-kart. So I started racing," said Futrelle, who was 10 years old at the time. "Once I started, there was nothing she could do."

He began racing go-karts in Wrens, Ga., for about a year, and then ran all over the Southeast, but admitted that the go-karts were more dangerous than full-size cars.

"When I was 12 and 13, we were running 75-80 mph in the go-karts. My mom was glad actually that I got out of it," he said.

Futrelle has steadily progressed since those days, finally moving into "real" cars at age 16.

"The day I turned 16 I went to driving school to get my racing license," he said.

At least two drivers classes are required before obtaining a license, which is required by the SCCA. Futrelle attended one, but the second was waived.

"I guess if you do all right in the first one, you don't have to go to the second one," he said.

In 2002, he raced his Spec Racer Ford in the Winter Nationals in Sebring, Fla., finishing fourth out of about 60 racers.

That season, he won 10 out of 13 races and the South Atlantic Road Racing Championship. At 16, he was the youngest driver ever to win that championship.

Also in 2002, Futrelle won the Jim Fitzgerald Award, which is given to the racer who gives the best performance at the final race of the year.

He is currently between seasons, and working on getting a major sponsorship. Until 2003, he and his dad paid for all of his racing.

After his success in 2002, Pete Harrison, heir to the Hudson Radiator Company and three-time national champ, provided Futrelle with the Van Dieman and paid for his racing for the 2003 season.

In addition, Futrelle signed with team owner Kevin Kloepfer, owner of Comprent Motorsports. Comprent maintains his car, takes it to the track before each race, and provides him with a pit crew.

But Futrelle is still searching for a major sponsorship for the upcoming season, which will begin in April. He is hoping that the televised races next season in the Toyota Atlantic Series will be attractive to companies in sports drinks, computers or restaurants.

The Toyota Atlantic Series will require a new and bigger, faster car made by Swift. Futrelle estimated that next season will cost him and Comprent about $500,000 to run, including renting out major tracks to properly test and adjust his car, unless he can secure a sponsorship.

"Until you get to the highest level (the Champ series), it's very expensive for the driver," Futrelle said.

He would like to race professionally in the Champ series, which he will be eligible for after completing the Toyota Atlantic Series.

Futrelle is currently a freshman at Augusta State University. He plans to study business or marketing so that if a professional driving career doesn't work out, he will still be able to work in the racing world. One day, he'd even like to own his own team.

Juggling school and a racing career has been difficult at best. For a Saturday race, Futrelle has to be at the track the Tuesday before to run the qualifying races. But he is determined to make it work, just like he did in high school.

"I went to Richmond Academy, and they were really lenient (with missed class time), as long as I kept my grades up," he said.

With his free time off the track, he enjoys hanging out with his friends, playing golf and going to the beach. But finding leisure time during the racing season is almost impossible.

"Once you get really into racing, you're busy. You're gone every weekend," he said.

GOLF: Ten-year-old Taylor Ramsey finished third in the Sunlce Sho Me Shootout in Farmington, Mo., on Sept. 18-19. Ramsey, who competed in the 8-11-year-old age group, shot 83 on Saturday and 87 on Sunday at Eagle Lake Golf Club.