June 18 • 09:05 PM

Fast trackin'

17-year-old Jimmy Novak III named top rookie at three state race tracks

Checkered flag in hand, Jimmy was featured winner at Dixie Motor Speedway.

September 29, 2010
DRYDEN — Jimmy Novak III says driving has been in his blood since he was about 2 or 3 years old.

In those days he would ride his little red and yellow pedal car around the living room, banging into furniture and nearby relatives; much to the chagrin of his parents, Susan and Jim Novak.

Now 17, Jimmy is rewriting Michigan's auto racing record books, having earned 2010 Rookie of the Year status at three separate tracks.

Driving in Pro Late Model and Super Stock divisions, he has taken this year's top rookie honors at Dixie Motor Speedway in Birch Run, the Owosso Speedway in Ovid, and Auto City Speedway in Clio. As a result, Jimmy is establishing himself as a driver to be reckoned with on the racing circuit.

"When I was little, I used to drive around the house making motor noises," he recalls. "My mom was always yelling at me to quit banging into stuff, but I would do it all day long."

Jimmy later graduated to battery-charged vehicles and he liked the new-found power.

"I had a two-speed dune buggy and my sister, Sarah, had a little rechargeable jeep," says Jimmy. "I used to like to bang into her and spin her out. My mom didn't like it but my dad would sometimes laugh."

He soon moved on to go-carts, honing his skills and satisfying his passion for going fast. Today, he races on half-mile oval tracks at speeds ranging from 120-140 miles per hour.

"I started driving cars when I was 14," Jimmy says. "I always liked to see how fast I could go.

At the tender age of 17, Jimmy Novak has aspirations of becoming a NASCAR driver.
"One day we went over to my dad's buddy's house who had an old stock car he wanted to get rid of. It needed paint, had all different color fenders and we had to put together.

"I took that car out to the Clio track a couple times to practice. In my first race I got lapped. I ended up crashing it head-on into the wall, totaling the car."

Sobered from the experience, Jimmy was at first reluctant to get back out on the race track.

"I didn't know if I wanted to do it anymore," he remembers, "but my dad encouraged me to conquer my fears. He told me I needed to get back on the horse that bucked me off."

Inspired by his father's advice, Jimmy decided to approach car racing in earnest and with a renewed passion.

He won his first race in the fall of 2007, beating 25-30 competitors on the half-mile track at Dixie Motor Speedway. Jimmy remembers that the race was on a Friday, two days before he began driver's training classes at school.

"They say racing is the strongest drug there is for some people," says Jimmy, a junior at Almont High School. He also attends autobody classes at the Lapeer Ed Tech Center.

"I love going fast," he says. "I like the noise and being able to drive by people. Once I put my helmet on, I change my mindset. It's like going into battle."

While Jimmy is gaining valuable track experience, he also relies on his instincts and an ability to react quickly to potential problems and opportunities.

"Reflexes and instincts are both important," he says. "You have to be able to react without thinking about it, especially if someone is spinning out in front of you. It's very important to have confidence in your car."

Indeed, confidence is growing in the driver. Jimmy's father has witnessed his son's evolution as a person and as a competitive driver.

"I'm proud of him," says Jim Novak. "I'm pleased that he can handle a car as well as he does. He's also a very good sportsman as a driver."

Pit crew member Jeff Pinnell agrees, while acknowledging the young driver's tenacity and commitment.

"Jimmy's gaining the respect of the other local drivers," says Pinnell. "He's showing persistence and a lot of patience on the track. And he doesn't overdrive his car."

In the meantime, Jimmy has his sites set on upcoming races in Owosso and Clio. The Track Championship will take place at Auto City Speedway this weekend.

He also plans to compete at the Winchester 400 in Indiana, which is reputed to be the fastest half-mile track in the world. In 2009, Jimmy finished fifth out of 35 cars at Winchester.

"My desire is to get experience at as many tracks as I can to pursue a career as a professional driver," says Jimmy. "And I want to give race fans the excitement they come to the track to see."

One of the young driver's favorite tracks is Auto City Speedway, where drivers attain speeds of upwards of 140 miles per hour.

"That track lets you drive 10-inch wide 'slicks,' which allow you to run fast," he says. "I just like racing somewhere every week — especially new places."

While auto racing may be Jimmy's passion and his future, his father reminds him that school must be his immediate priority.

"If he wants to keep racing," says Jim Novak, "he's going to have to keep his grades up. That the challenge."

On the fast track

• As the youngest driver in the Sportsman Division at Auto City Speedway in 2008, Jimmy had four top 5 finishes, 11 top 10 finishes, and five Heat Race wins. He finished second in Championship Points and earned the Rookie of the Year award for Sportsman and Factory Stock Divisions.

• Jimmy finished fifth in the Championship Point standings in 2009, with four top 5 finishes, seven top 10 finishes, two Heat Race wins, and earned Most Improved Driver honors.

• Jimmy's favorite hobby is snowmobiling. His racing pit crew includes Jeff Pinnell and his father, James Novak II.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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