When Jeff Gordon burst onto the NASCAR scene in the mid-90s, they called him Wonder Boy. Decades later, Joey Logano was called Sliced Bread. And as for Sam Rogers? Well, there’s a very good chance they’ll probably call him Kid Ace.
He might only be fourteen years old, but Sam Rogers of Nova Scotia is tearing up racetracks in his #12 Bandolero car, taking strings of victories against much older, experienced, and well-funded drivers. Take one part hard work, a dose of determination, and a heap of raw talent and you’ve got a recipe for one of the most successful Bandolero drivers to turn a wheel in years.
Bandolero cars are lightweight spec cars running a sealed 570cc Briggs & Stratton twin cylinder engine. Its output of 30hp might not sound like a lot but its more than enough to push these 550lb race cars to well over 100km/h down the backstretch of a local short track oval. They’re designed to be a turn-key way for kids to get onto the track.
In 2015, his first full year of competition, Sam proved to be a quick study. Equipped with a secondhand Bandolero car his dad found on Kijiji and hammered back into shape, the young phenom took fifth place in his first race, locked down Rookie of the Year honours, and finished a remarkable third in points at his home racetrack. No small list of feats.
“We had no idea what to expect,” Sam told me at the dining room table at his parent’s home in Nova Scotia. “That very first race, we just showed up to practice and registered at the track. I had no idea.” Given the number of trophies surrounding us and occupying every inch of shelf space as we speak, he certainly got a handle on things pretty quickly.
He then learned about the INEX Winter Nationals, held every year in Florida. INEX is a worldwide racing body formed about 30 years ago to organize and track the progress of racers competing in Bandolero and bigger Legend cars.
Renting a car from a local supplier in the Sunshine State, Sam and his dad showed up to Orlando Speedworld, a 3/8-mile banked oval located about an hour from Daytona, and were thrust into a week-long Bandolero whirlwind.
Driver meetings, practice sessions, qualifying, heat races … Sam suddenly found himself amongst well-funded teams with years of experience. Racing his rented #03 car in the Bandolero Outlaw division, intended for drivers aged 12-16, Sam rarely found himself outside the top five all week amongst racers from America, Canada, and Australia.
After that experience, Sam headed back to his home track of Scotia Speedworld, taking the entire field to school. Using the same second-hand #12 car he used the previous year (the car is actually older than Sam), he won eight of the thirteen races at that track, locking down the points championship for 2016 against more experienced drivers. In fact, he finished on the podium for every single race, a feat not accomplished by any other driver that year. Trophies started to spill out of his bedroom and into the rest of his house. Keep in mind that, at this point, the kid is only twelve years old.
Sam captured more points that year than any other Bandolero driver in Canada, ranking 10th in the world. Not bad for a racer using equipment older than he is on a relative shoestring budget compared to the big dollar teams who plow development dollars into young drivers looking for the next Jimmie Johnson or Lewis Hamilton.
That point was driven home when Sam went to Florida for a second time, choosing to compete once again in the INEX Winter Nationals. Comfortable with his own car, he and his dad hitched a trailer to their 2007 Silverado and drove 3037km from their home in Nova Scotia to the Citrus County Speedway, a 3/8-mile track on the western side of the state.
In a world where most racers simply haul their car into the pits and say “fix it” to their crew when it’s not handling well, Sam is imbued with the natural talent to be able to specify a specific suspension adjustment. It’s a good thing too, because Sam’s pit crew in Florida consists of one person: his dad.
While other kids are apt to retire to their motorhomes or devolve into a fugue of despair, Sam grabs a wrench and adds a couple rounds of wedge to his car’s right rear. As he proudly shows me around his race car, the clarity of his explanations of the car’s suspension geometry rival what I’ve heard from professional racing instructors.
I ask him about kids who have a tendency to rant and rave instead of actively fixing their car. Sam looks horrified at the suggestion. “If I did that,” he says, “Dad would simply load the car onto the trailer and take me home.” Safe to say, he won’t be throwing a temper tantrum at a track any time soon. Some NASCAR drivers – most notably, a couple of brothers – could learn a thing or three from Sam Rogers.
Armed with solid but basic equipment and a dose of talent, Sam wheeled his #12 car to three 2nd place finishes during the five race week, never taking the checkered flag outside the top five. How was that experience different than 2016 when he rented someone else’s machine?
“I’m comfortable in my car. I know what it needs in terms of adjustments and can concentrate on getting a good racing line and hitting my marks, lap after lap.” You know who else used to come in after a few laps of practice and make mechanical adjustments to his own car? Some guy named Earnhardt.
Sam and his dad then prepared for the local 2017 racing season, stockpiling Bandolero parts, most of which were sourced secondhand. He raced all the events at his home track, taking 2nd place in the 13-race season, only three points off winning a back-to-back championship. He also raced the entire 8-race season at Petty Speedway in neighboring New Brunswick, beating all hands there to take the track championship at a place at which he had little experience.
If you’re a fan of statistics, here’s a knee-buckler: last year, Sam won the local Bando Blast 30-lap event for a second year in a row, a feat never before accomplished. He had the fastest lap in all three practice sessions, won both heat races, and won both feature events. He showed his taillights to the field all weekend, if Bandolero cars had tail lights, that is.
An additional 25-lap victory at the Shediac Centre for Speed on a track doused in rain capped off an incredible 2017. More trophies invaded his house, this time spilling into the living room and down into the basement.
Your author will take this moment to confess that if I had experienced such success in my early teens, my own ego would have been the size of Texas Motor Speedway. Sam is not afflicted by such an attitude and has actually won awards at tracks where he competes for sportsmanship.
Truckloads of trophies, a shoestring budget, and a reputation for clean driving? That’s a rare combination, one sought after in young racers by team owners like Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs. Sam’s got a bright future.
Right now, he’s preparing his #12 Bandolero car (yes, the same one his dad bought secondhand all those years ago) to give 22 other racers a run for their money once again at this year’s INEX Winter Nationals in Florida. He and his dad will again be making the drive in their ten year old truck, parking it at the track next to the competition with their motorhomes and pit crews.
He’s also going to try his hand in the much more powerful Legends cars, ones which crank out 150hp rather than the 30hp to which he is accustomed. According to Sam, it’ll help him get his feet wet in that class of cars so he can plan for the future. The humility on display is staggering.
Wrapping up the interview, Sam thanks me for my time and leads me to the door. In the corner of his basement, I spy a racing simulator wheel and pedal set, connected to a computer. Asking him about it, Sam replies “Oh, that’s for iRacing,” a popular online racing series that attracts the likes of Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Helps keep me sharp.” Even when he’s not on the track, he’s on the track. Astonishing.
Mark it down, folks: it won’t be long before people will be unholstering their Visa to buy Ace Rogers merchandise bearing the likeness of Sam and his car. His success goes to show that raw talent, when combined with hard work and a level head, is pretty tough to beat.
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