Jamie Holtom is looking to make history this weekend. Holtom, a third-year chemical engineering student, will try to become the youngest champion in the history of the Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series Street Tuner Circuit, a professional touring car racing loop based out of Daytona Beach, Florida.
The circuit involves 10 races over tracks full of banks and turns, dramatically different than the oval racetracks favoured by NASCAR. Holtom has a 29-point advantage going into tomorrow’s final race at Virginia International Raceway. He can clinch the title by finishing 25th or better.
Holtom has already written his name into the circuit’s record books, though. Four years ago while he was still 17, he became the youngest class winner in KONI Challenge history when he won a race at Mosport International Raceway in Bowmanville, ON. The victory came shortly after he started racing full-size cars.
Holtom said the early win gave him a lot of credibility and confidence.
“For me to win my first race at such a young age was huge,” he said. “Since I was very young, I’ve been trying to forge my way to a career as a professional race car driver. … You need to be able to prove you’re worth the money.”
Holtom said he picked up his love of racing from his father.
“My dad used to race professionally when I was younger,” he said. “He got me interested and got me started, buying me my first go-kart.”
Holtom raced go-karts from the time he was eight until he was 15, winning multiple Canadian championships. He said his days go-karting helped prepare him for racing full-size cars.
“Believe it or not, go-karts are much higher performance than the average race car,” he said, emphasizing their superior power-to-weight ratios and turning abilities.
Full-size racing is a tougher task, he said, because it’s harder to keep a larger car under control at high speeds. Holtom said he has had one bad crash during his time racing full-size cars.
“I wrote off a race car four years ago at Mosport going around a corner,” he said. “I think it’s the scariest corner in the world. … You’re not really aware of how fast you’re going before you start crashing.”
The crash clearly didn’t deter him from racing.
“When you’re young, you think you’re invincible,” he said. “I was just eager to get back in the car.”
He said driving his Chevy Cobalt SS car around the track at up to 135 miles per hour doesn’t intimidate him.
“When you’re driving a race car, driving in a race, it doesn’t feel like you’re actually going very fast,” he said. “If you’ve been doing it for a long time, it’s kind of like another day at the office.”
Holtom said he spends more than 40 days a year racing and testing cars, but that’s miniscule compared to the amount of work his pit crew have to put in.
“It probably takes at least a week of solid work to prepare a car,” he said.
On the Street Tuner circuit, races range from three to six hours, and teams have to switch drivers partway through. Holtom said it’s important for the crew and both drivers to be tightly in sync, because different driving styles require different car setup.
“Racing is very much a team sport,” he said. “It’s very important to find a driver combination where the drivers get along and think the same way about racing the car. … In general, you’re very in tune with the other driver.”
Holtom usually races with Eric Curran, whom he has been racing with for several years. They get along well on and off the track, Holtom said.
“We’re very good friends,” he said. Holtom said racing is a highly demanding athletic pursuit requiring drivers to do plenty of training so they can handle long hours in cockpits that can reach temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius.
Holtom said good drivers are born, not made.
“There’s a certain level of inborn skill,” he said. “When you’re driving a race car, you’re driving it at 100 per cent of its potential grip. Being able to sense that is important.”
Holtom said he wants to make a career out of racing, and perhaps eventually head to the big races overseas.
“For me, the ultimate goal would be to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
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