Jared Marks is one of six entrants in today's Menards 200 who are under the age of 18. He turns 18 on May 28.
For race car drivers and racing enthusiasts, a trip to Talladega Superspeedway or Daytona International Speedway is akin to a pilgrimage of sorts. For Jared Marks, his trips to two of the shrines of racing were a business trip. A truncated business trip.
In February, Marks and his racing team headed to Florida for the ARCA Racing Series Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona, where he registered and his crew unloaded their car and garage gear … and then Marks watched as Bobby Gerhart won the 83-lap race.
Eleven weeks later, Marks and part of his racing team traveled to Alabama, set up shop for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250 at Talladega and again, Marks became an observer. And that became the point of the trip for Marks, who didn't even line up to drive in either race.
Marks, 17, is one of a handful of drivers at this weekend's Menards 200 at Toledo Speedway who aren't yet legally old enough to vote -- or, in one case, to drive on the highway -- but who are competing on the ARCA Racing Series circuit this summer.
Marks earned points simply for showing up at Talladega and Daytona. But because both of those tracks are more than a mile in length, drivers who are under the age of 18 are not permitted to compete in those venues. Drivers under the age of 18 can compete on tracks that are a mile or less in length.
MORE THAN A MILE
Tracks more than a mile on the ARCA Racing Series (drivers must be 18 to compete at these tracks):
Talladega Superspeedway: 2.66 miles
Michigan International Speedway: 2 miles
Daytona International Speedway: 2.5 miles
Pocono Raceway: 2.5 miles
New Jersey Motorsports Park: 2.25 miles
Chicagoland Speedway: 1.5 miles
Kansas Speedway: 1.5 miles
"It's definitely very difficult not to be able to race, and you're seeing all those nice cars around you," said Marks, a Napoleon native who now lives in Mooresville, N.C. "But it's good, because I'll feel more prepared when I can race at those tracks. I've tested at Daytona twice, and that's a lot more typical than many 18-year-olds."
Of the 39 entrants in the Menards 200 as of Wednesday morning, Marks is one of six under 18, joining Mason Mingus (17), Austin Rettig (17), Juan Carlos Bloom (17), Clint King (16), and Erik Jones (15).
"There are a lot of young drivers on the ARCA series, and it's definitely a development series, where a racer can go from the late model series and build on what they do here," said Jones, who is in his first year on the ARCA Racing Series.
Marks enters Sunday's Menards 200 at Toledo Speedway in 22nd place (390 points, with one top-10 finish) in the ARCA points standings, but he has made only two starts in the four ARCA races so far this season.
Jones, meanwhile, set up at Daytona but did not travel to Talladega.
"You go to a place like Daytona and you talk to other race car drivers about what they're learning at the track and how they handle it," Jones said. "I learned a lot of things that I'll be able to apply when I can run at those tracks."
But Marks also points out what distinguishes each track's length and why practicing or competing on each can work to a driver's advantage.
The smaller tracks like Toledo Speedway's half-mile oval, he explained, allow for a more aggressive style of driving and allow for each driver to focus and capitalize on his or her strengths.
The bigger tracks like Talladega and Daytona, he explained, are for focusing on the car's performance and the capabilities of its motor.
"You have to concentrate on your line, and you're concentrating on the race," Marks said. "And at the bigger tracks, you have to think about the points."
After Marks turns 18 on May 28, he'll be able to drive on longer tracks on the ARCA circuit. He plans to race on the two-mile oval June 15 at the RainEater Wiper Blades 200 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
At that point, Marks hopes those business trips down south pay dividends through the course of the season.
"I have a couple goals for this season," Marks said. "I want to win races, and that's my No. 1 goal. But my No. 2 goal is to learn as much as I can, so that when I race at all these tracks, I can have as much experience as possible and build off that."
BOWMAN ON POLE: Alex Bowman won the pole for the Menards 200 at Saturday's qualifying time trials at Toledo Speedway.
Bowman, an 18-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., earned the top spot in Sunday's ARCA event with a time of 16.046 seconds on the first of two timed qualifying laps around the half-mile oval. Bowman will start the 35-car race ahead of Brennan Poole and Chris Buescher, who each had qualifying times of 16.091.
"This track is different, because the first lap is typically faster," Bowman said. "I, personally, messed up both laps because I think we could have been a little quicker."
Bowman won his second pole this season. He won the pole in March at Mobile International Speedway, where he finished third in the Mobile ARCA 200. Bowman won the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 on April 29 at Salem (Indiana) International Speedway.
"It's not necessarily a mental advantage for me," Bowman said of winning the pole on Saturday. "It's more of a mental thing for the other competitors. They might be a little less confident, but that's just how it is for me."
NOTABLE DRIVERS: Thirty-five drivers qualified for starting spots in today's race. Among those drivers are two Venezuelans, Milka Duno and Nelson Canache, who will start 24th and 25th, respectively. Duno is the only woman driving.
James Hylton is the oldest driver in today's field at Toledo Speedway. Hylton, 77, was the NASCAR Winston Cup rookie of the year in 1966 and competed in more than 600 races on the circuit. Hylton finished Saturday with a qualifying time of 18.609 seconds and will start 34th in today's race. Levi Youster, a 19-year-old driver from Oak Harbor, will start 35th.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.
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