Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – Last June, Orange County Fair Speedway got their delayed season started with fans in the drive-in section and those whom tuned into the track’s live stream. In the field was a young driver in the #22 named Tanner VanDoren.
Not much was known about this driver except that he was 12-years-old.
However, as the racing got underway, more and more notice was being taken of this driver.
Week after week, he would consistently post good finishes and moved higher and higher in the Sportsman point standings. He was staying clear of the on track incidents and as OCFS’s racing came to a halt in late July, Tanner had moved into the top spot in the Sportsman point standings. Even with a shortened regular season, it was quite an achievement for a racer of his age to top the talented field of Sportsman racers that OCFS always has.
The car owner of the #51 Sportsman, Pat Giuliano, was one of those who was impressed with TVD. For the 2020 Eastern States Sportsman Championship Race, Pat had Tanner in the car for the most prestigious Sportsman race of the season. And TVD didn’t disappoint. With a good time trial of 4th, Tanner worked his way into the lead on lap 35 and raced his way to his first win at OCFS and the first feature win for car owner Giuliano.
On Tuesday, TVD was a guest on the OCFS Facebook Live broadcast ‘Talkin Dirty’ with OCFS Small Block driver Pat Reiser hosting. Brett Hearn was also on the broadcast. And viewers were able to learn more about this rising star who they maybe hadn’t heard from before.
TVD was asked about the ESW experiences.
“I started far enough in front which was a help, being in front of what was going on back there. I felt I had a good chance to win once I got up to 3rd. When I got into 2nd, it was when all the restarts began. It was a challenge having to restart on the outside. When I finally got the lead over Alan Fink, I got back in the low groove and I started watching the lap counter.”
It may have not occurred to him until he took the checkered flag at the end of the 50 lap grind that the enormity of the moment hit Tanner.
“The stopping on the backstretch and getting on the roof of the car in front of the drive-in fans is just a blur now,” Tanner said. “I just jumped out and got on the roof, slipped a bit and the fans loved it. It was a spontaneous thing.”
And Hearn was quick to praise how well TVD did during the season.
“I had heard that there was a young driver in competition, but I didn’t know much about him,” Hearn said. “As the year progressed, he was right there with the best decision makers I’ve ever seen.. He has a good feel for when he should go and when he should slow. He knows when he should take and when he should give. When he took the lead in the ESW race, he pushed it right to the edge and he knew it was time to go. I was really impressed watching from upstairs.”
The recently turned 13 year old Tanner started racing at 4 1/2.
“I started out racing in the quarter midgets,” TVD said. “We just tried to improve as me moved into slingshots and further up the racing ladder.”
It’s mostly Tanner and his dad, Jason, That work on the car.
“I like working on the car, but I’m still learning. I liked liked working on the maintenance on our trip to Florida for the Short Track Super Series at Bubba Raceway Park. It will help me to know all I can about the car. It’s usually me and my Dad working on the car during the week. Sometimes, someone will come over, but it’s usually just us two.”
And Hearn encouraged TVD to learn as much about the car as he could.
“All the great drivers have to know their equipment,” Hearn said. “There’s great drivers and there’s really great drivers and the really great drivers know what they want the car to feel like and they know how to get it there. So it’s good to get in there and turn the wrenches.”
And even at his young age, TVD knows how to put the racing fortunes into perspective.
“There’s going to be good nights and there’s going to be bad nights. It’s just the way racing works.”
Does he get nervous while lined up for a race?
“No, I just kind of sit there and talk to myself to be honest. You have to know who you are racing and try to know what their tendencies are. I want to be prepared for whatever might happen out there.”
TVD doesn’t try to pattern himself to any other driver.
“I watch where others are racing on the track, but I don’t try to imitate anyone else’s style.”
With a 2021 win at Bubba Speedway park already in the books, TVD outlined his plans for the upcoming season.
“We are going to be running some small block races for Joey Barbagallo. We will be in our own #22 for the OCFS season and we are looking at the big end of the season crate races. Oswego is definitely one we are interested in. We will be doing some racing at Big Diamond and some other big races.”
With his ever growing fan base, a lot of eyes will be on Tanner VanDoren this year. And it will not be at all surprising to see this extremely talented driver equal and/or exceed his 2020 accomplishments.
A couple of notes from the broadcast from Brett Hearn…
“As far as opening night, we are starting to see some movement in the ability of some venues to put people in the stands, especially outdoor ones. At this point, I am fairly confident that our grandstands will be open on April 3rd to some extent and some capacity. Stay tuned to the OCFS website where we will lay out what the plan will be. This is all speculation on my part right now, but things are moving in the right direction.”
“As far as the little track (Victory Speedway), February has been a rough month with the weather. A lot of snow to melt here. The construction of the little track will be slightly delayed until the ground firms up a little bit. We don’t want to do any damage to the backstretch on the big track that we need for the April 3rd opener and the practice the week before that. Stay tuned on that progress, but it’s still going forward.”