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Jared Irvan, as his dad did, likes going fast

Ernie Irvan's son, 14, seeks 'thrill of winning' in Legends Big Money 100 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

- stovar@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Jul. 01, 2012

Jared Irvan doesn’t remember his dad’s racing days.

He wasn’t born yet when his dad, former NASCAR driver Ernie Irvan, won the 1991 Daytona 500.

He’s too young to remember that, or any of Irvan’s 14 other victories in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

And he wasn’t around on Aug. 20, 1994, when his father sustained severe brain and lung injuries after a flat tire sent his car into the Turn 2 wall at 170 mph during a practice lap at Michigan.

He wasn’t there when doctors gave his father a 10 percent chance of survival after the accident. Or when Irvan not only survived, but returned to Cup racing 14 months later.

Jared, 14, was too young to remember a second serious wreck at Michigan – five years to the day of the first – that left Irvan with another traumatic brain injury, convincing him to retire.

But Jared has heard the stories.

They’re not the reason he races, or the reason he wouldn’t. He has his own motivation.

“It’s the thrill of winning, really, and the speed,” Jared says. “It’s really fun just to go out there and race with other cars.”

This week, at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Legends Big Money 100, Jared will do just that, as he has since he was 5. Allowing Jared to race hasn’t always been easy, but Irvan and his wife of nearly 20 years, Kim, are supportive.

“We want him to do what makes him happy,” says Irvan. “We know what the sport did for us and how much it really got the family together. We want to help him all we can.”

Irvan used to joke that he would give his son golf clubs if he showed interest in racing – and he did.

“He can hit the golf ball pretty good,” Irvan says.

“But in a lot of ways, (racing) is what we really wanted him to do. Yeah, we know how dangerous it can be, but golf, soccer can be dangerous in some ways too.”

Irvan makes sure his son takes every precaution – even securing Jared’s helmet himself before each practice and race. Since his retirement, Irvan has been raising awareness about traumatic brain injuries through his Race2Safety Foundation.

And Irvan sees watching Jared race as therapy.

“I just feel like myself again watching him,” he says.

Jared tries to qualify Monday for the Legends Big Money 100 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which pits the best Legend Car drivers in the nation for a $100,000 purse. Qualifying heats in Legends and Bandolero cars begin Monday, and the main event closes out a day of racing Tuesday.

Jared began driving a Legends Car, a 125-horsepower vehicle that can reach 100 mph, only a couple of months ago. He is one of more than 150 drivers competing at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout, which runs Tuesdays through Aug. 21. He competes in the Legends Car Young Lions division.

Jared, a student at First Assembly Christian School in Concord, said the 10-week racing series, which pits him against better competition in traffic, should help him grow as a driver.

And having his father around has been invaluable, even if Jared doesn’t always admit it.

“He really helps me a lot; I just don’t really say it,” Jared says. “If he tells me, ‘Go into the corner deeper,’ I won’t say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that,’ but usually I end up trying it. If it works, I just take the credit.”

Irvan admits his son doesn’t always want to hear his suggestions.

“He just responds, ‘When’s the last time you drove one of these?’ ” Irvan, 53, said.

Irvan might have an answer to that soon. He says he’s considering buying a Legends Car and making a return to racing, just to quiet his son.

“I’m going to practice,” he said. “If I can get up to speed, I’m going to run, but not the same class as him.

“I don’t want him to beat me.”

Want to go?

The Legends Big Money 100 will be held at Charlotte Motor Speedway Monday and Tuesday.

Gates open at 1 p.m. Monday for qualifying and 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. The feature race for the $100,000 purse is set to start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $10 for adults; children 13 and under get in free.

For more, visit bit.ly/bigmoney100

Tovar: 704-358-5941; Twitter: @sergiotovar

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