OAK HARBOR - If the students sitting in study hall at Oak Harbor High School take a few minutes to daydream, they might think about a summer trip to Cedar Point, a basketball game that night, or how relieved they will be when that final bell signals the end of another day.
Nick Grodi has a different vision than most of his classmates.
The 16-year-old junior sees 800-horsepower stock cars streaking down the backstretch at Daytona, a blur of lightning-fast pit stops, and a battle with the likes of drivers named Earnhardt, Johnson, and Stewart.
It's a dream, but not a fantasy for Grodi, who has been racing competitively for eight years. He recently took part in a national driver development competition, and emerged at the top of the heap of more than 700 young racers who are chasing a career in stock car racing.
"Nick is a very talented young driver," said Ron Sutton, who operates the California-based Winner's Circle program designed to identify up-and-coming talent and help facilitate their move up the racing ladder to the NASCAR ranks.
"I have been very impressed with Nick. He is a very skilled young man, and I think he has a bright future in racing."
Grodi started in quarter midgets, moved up to mini sprints, and in 2008 began racing modifieds at Sandusky Speedway. But it wasn't men against this boy - Grodi finished fourth in the championship points the past two seasons at Sandusky and took a pair of feature wins this year.
"I don't really think about the age thing or being younger than most of the other drivers, because it's all about knowing what you're doing in the car," Grodi said. "I work on the car, so I feel like I understand it, and if you know the car and you know how to race, it doesn't matter how old you are."
Grodi apparently showed the folks on the development side that he knows how to race.
On his visit to California in October, Grodi turned 100 laps on the Stockton 99 Speedway one day, working with a crew chief and communicating how the car was responding to the track.
"I was nervous at first, because I didn't know how good the other kids would be, but once I got in the car and got comfortable, the racing instincts just seemed to take over," Grodi said. "I was excited to be chosen for that program, and just wanted to show them what I was capable of."
In his racing career, Grodi has won 22 championships, 174 feature races, and one Grand National championship.
Grodi and his parents are at a racing crossroads of sorts, trying to decide where next to take his track skills, and how to introduce the talented teenager to the right folks to facilitate advancing his career.
The ARCA circuit has been a very fertile ground for developing talent, as evidenced by the recent ascension of drivers such as Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, and David Ragan from ARCA to NASCAR's top circuit, the Sprint Cup Series.
ARCA president Ron Drager said recently that talented young drivers have to find an avenue to display their abilities to insiders in the motorsports community.
"Good, bad, or indifferent, our sport has evolved to a point where you can't just be a great talent - you need to have an opportunity," Drager said.
"You need to be able to show your skill set to a decision-maker, and this program provides that kind of opportunity."
Grodi said he is very grateful for the sacrifices his family has made to provide him with racing equipment and put him in strong events.
He and his parents are considering racing down south this winter, and are looking at opportunities they have available based on Grodi's performance at the California.
"I decided when I was 9 or 10 years old that this is what I wanted to do. Racing is fun, it's exciting, and it really gets the adrenaline going," Grodi said. "My dream is just to get a chance to race in the Sprint Car Series. After that, it's up to me."
Contact Matt Markey at: