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Published: Thursday, 6/28/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

Drivers shine for all levels

Ferns has high hopes toward future as a 16-year old driver

Taylor Ferns, a 16-year-old from Monroe, Mich., plans to drive both races this weekend at Toledo Speedway. Taylor Ferns, a 16-year-old from Monroe, Mich., plans to drive both races this weekend at Toledo Speedway.

As Taylor Ferns steps into one of the top levels of amateur open-wheel auto racing, she owns up to one of her competitive faults.

"I'm the type of person that, I'm really hard on myself because I want to be the best at whatever I'm doing," said Ferns, who will compete in Friday's Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness United States Auto Club open-wheel doubleheader at Toledo Speedway.

Ferns plans to drive on Friday in the 30-lap midget race and the Silver Crown Series race on the 1/2-mile oval. The Traxxas Silver Crown Series race -- the Rollie Beale 100 -- is expected to include Kody Swanson, Ferns' Toyota teammate and the Silver Crown Series points leader, as well as Bryan Clauson, the two-time defending USAC champion who drove in this year's Indianapolis 500 qualifying runs.

Ferns, a junior at Lutheran High School North in Macomb, Mich., enters her second Silver Crown Series race as one of the USAC's most decorated female drivers. At 16 years old, she's won the most USAC feature events of any female drivers and won the 2011 USAC Mopar Division I Midget Series championship, finishing in the top 10 in all 16 feature open-wheel driving events she started.

At Toledo Speedway


■ United States Auto Club’s Traxxas Silver Crown and Mopar National Midget races

■ Practice, 4 p.m.; time trials, 6 p.m.; racing, 7 p.m.

The USAC is an open-wheel series but has produced stock-car drivers such as Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne, who currently drive in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Stewart owns and operates two USAC teams under Stewart-Haas Racing but in the last five years, USAC has produced fewer NASCAR-caliber drivers.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, told NASCAR.com in 2010 that while there's talent at the lower levels, there are obstacles in advancing, including a sagging economy, the transition from driving an open-wheel car to a heavier stock car, and a growing number of aspiring drivers competing for a smaller number of driver openings to fill.

"I believe the talent is still definitely there," said Stenhouse, who will drive for Roush Fenway Racing's Sprint Cup team next season. "Obviously, the cars aren't getting any easier to drive. They're still the same sprints and midgets that everybody ran, the same race tracks. So I don't think the talent level is down. I think it's a combination of a lot of things that's slowed the transition from USAC ranks to stock cars."

While she has stock-car aspirations, Ferns will continue to concentrate on open-wheel driving and is making the transition to the Silver Crown Series by driving a Toyota-powered car with a 750-horsepower engine, about twice the horsepower of a midget car.

When she comes to Toledo, Ferns will also have to adjust to driving on a smaller oval.

Ferns qualified 13th for the Casey's General Stores USAC Challenge and finished 10th in the 15-driver field in the race June 22 at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa -- a 3/4-mile track, compared to Toledo Speedway's 1/2-mile oval.

"You're not going to be going as fast as if you're driving at Iowa," Ferns said. "The smaller tracks are tighter and with the smaller tracks, they're definitely more technical. You're doing so much more in one lap."

She'll also have to adjust to longer races; she'll run in her second 100-lap race in as many weeks.

"I want to do the best I can do, push the car as hard as I can and improve on my finishes," Ferns said. "I want to finish all the laps."

Still, Ferns has high expectations for the start of her next step in auto racing.

"The USAC races are some of the best open-wheel races in the nation," Ferns said. "I'm starting to earn my way in open wheel races, and trying to be the best, it's an obstacle. But hopefully, we'll have a better weekend at Toledo."

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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