NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- NEW SMYRNA BEACH - From the grandstands at New Smyrna Speedway, it may seem like a lot of fun, as spectators watch teams unloading a race car and then ripping laps over the fast, half-mile oval.
The competitors, many of them family-oriented teams, make camp in the infield or just beyond Turn 4 on Saturday nights. They bring barbecue grills and coolers, which gives the appearance of a block party.
"A race team just doesn't pop up out of nowhere," driver Zack Jarrell said. "People think we show up and start turning left on the racetrack. It's more like 95 percent of the work is done in the shop."
Car hoods are up as adjustments are made to the engine or carburetor or one of a hundred different tweaks. Little kids play. Older men swap jokes.
Each team, each driver has different agendas as the sun melts on the western horizon and the track lights begin to glow. Some are out to burn off tension, while others see this high-banked oval as a potential launching pad to a racing career.
On any given race night, not one of them will make enough money to pay for their numerous racing expenses. No matter. They are all chasing this crazy, mechanical love.
For some of these competitors, love hurts.
The Jarrells represent a microcosm of the middle class racing family, a journey filled with joy - feature wins bring cheers and goose bumps - and pain and worry, such as finding sponsorship money and keeping the racing equipment competitive.
The face of Jarrell Racing is young Zack, a 16-year-old junior at Spruce Creek High School, who mans the steering wheel of the No. 18 entry, which competes in the Pro Trucks division at NSS.
Zack came up through the quarter-midgets program at Little New Smyrna Speedway (the speedway inside NSS), then earned Pro Trucks Rookie of the Year honors last season.
This is a total family effort.
Jeff Jarrell, Zack's father, spends the majority of his free time working on the race truck in the family garage. Nancy Jarrell, Zack's mother, manages the books, hunts for sponsors and books appearances.
Even Zack's kid sister, Jasmine, 13, helps. She is in charge of putting together information packets that are mailed to prospective sponsors. She too, has racing ambitions.
Jeff and Nancy each have full-time jobs, but don't have enough income to fund the racing program out of pocket.
"The key to our survival right now is sponsorship," Nancy said. "It's a costly sport, there's no doubt about it. We want to provide Zack with the best equipment possible. No. 1, to keep him safe, and No. 2, to stay competitive."
The Jarrells live in the New Smyrna Beach area and get most of their support from local merchants and restaurants. The sponsor list includes: Merk's, Eagle Steel, Samsula Concrete Construction, Echo Artz, Flip Flops, The Lake Doctors, Inc., Riverside Motorcars, Mon Delice Bakery, X-1R, The Flagler Tavern and Cheers. Flip Flops, a seafood restaurant that recently moved to a much larger building, was one of the Jarrell's first supporters.
"They're part of the Flip Flops family," owner Scott Lewitt said. "We've known the family a couple of years now. I'm trying to get out to the track more because Zack is having such an outstanding season."
Zack has competed in 15 races, scored four wins and had eight other top-10 finishes. He has led 171 laps. But the Jarrells' efforts go way beyond showing up at the racetrack every weekend. "There's a lotmore to it," Nancy said. "We're willing to do whatever it takes to make this work."
And by that, she means hauling the truck to almost any location where Zack has a personal appearance, to drum up support for the team.
On this night, the Jarrell family has the No. 18 truck on display outside of Flip Flops. Zack meets people and signs autograph cards, while Nancy works the crowd with the hopes of maybe finding another sponsor. "We'll drive anywhere, any day of the week, as long as it gives Zack a positive opportunity to meet people, shake hands and gain more fans," she said. "We are continually promoting, working events, meeting people, sending out packets. We do that more than racing." "We're constantly trying to push ahead. We don't have a famous name, we don't have a million dollars."
These efforts by the family are not lost on Zack, who does his part by maintaining an A average in school, working on the truck during the week, then digging for position on race days. "Words can't begin to describe how thankful I am to have the parents that I do," he said. "My parents and sister have given up their normal lives just so I could try to live my dream. "We go to the track to win. We don't go to the track to finish second. They put everything on the line and sacrifice all week." Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing