JAKE Tranter watched with wide-eyed bewilderment as Brooke Tatnell ended Kerry Madsen’s dominance of the Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic in 2009.
The then 13-year-old was a handy dirt karts racer but had no belief he would one day take on Tatnell on Australian sprintcar racing’s biggest stage.
Such has been the rise of the South Australian teenager in sprintcar ranks, Tranter is among the record 102-car field for the two-day showcase this weekend.
“I never really thought about it when I was that young. When we used to go I never thought about jumping in one,” he said. “There was always the possibility but I guess I never pictured me being out there.”
Tranter, now 17, is still coming to terms with the fact he’ll line up against Tatnell, Australian champion James McFadden and a record 18 Americans in the Classic.
He described the challenge as “pretty daunting” but followed up almost immediately with “I suppose it’ll be all right”.
The verdict reflects a young driver confident he can put his best foot forward against some of the most decorated drivers in sprintcar racing.
“We’d be pretty impressed with (making the A main) but we’ll see how we qualify and go from there,” he said.
“Try and get as clean a weekend as we can and see how we go.”
Tranter’s journey to the Classic started as a 12-year-old racing dirt karts in South Australia.
He first jumped in a sprintcar at Murray Bridge late last season, following in the footsteps of his father Jason who drove for “two or three years”.
“You’re not sure what to expect, how much faster everyone is going to be, if the leaders are going to come around you and lap you,” he said. “You’ve got to keep a clean line so you don’t get in their way.”
The learning curve has been huge but made easier thanks to crew members Doug Rankin and Paul McMahon.
Tranter has since contested World Series Sprintcars meetings in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales and the Australian title in Brisbane.
He wants to travel to America — initially to observe but eventually to race — but understands how much he still has to improve.
The attitude of rival drivers could help him get there.
“You talk to the guys who have been doing it for years and they talk to you like you’ve been doing it with them,” he said.“At Brisbane we had a lot of trouble with how I was driving going from Sydney the week before.
“Sydney being such a big track you had to keep the car straight, to Brisbane where you have to throw it in and get the car locked down.
“I had a lot of trouble with that and James McFadden passed me when I got in trouble.
“Straight after the race he couldn’t come over any quicker and taught me how to drive in those situations.”