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ACA graduate Searcy wins formula car debut

It’s not unusual for a kid to say he wants to be a race car driver when he grows up. It is unusual to actually become one. Tuscaloosa’s Ben Searcy is doing just that, and doing it quite well. After a successful run on the kart racing circuit for five years, Searcy has turned it up a notch and moved up to formula cars. On April 10 the 19-year-old made his debut in the F2000 Championship Series, the race season’s opener, in Alton, Va., at the Virginia International Raceway. Not only did the rookie win his first race, Searcy won in the rain, finishing 15 seconds ahead of his nearest driver and, at times, was two seconds per lap quicker than any other driver in the 13-lap race. ’It was a little nerve-wracking with it being the first race of the season, and it was also my first race in those cars,’ said the 2008 American Christian Academy graduate. ‘So to come out and win the first race was a great feeling, of course, and it gives us a good shot for the championship.’ Searcy’s road to formula racing began in 2003. His father, Tony, read about a go-kart school in Barnesville, Ga., and, thinking it could make for a fun father-son bonding experience, both entered. Ben finished third in his first race, and a career was born. His successful karting run was highlighted in November 2006 when, as a member of the American national team, he competed in Portugal at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals, competing against racers from 40 countries for the world championships. Searcy made the move to cars toward the end of last year’s winter race season. He was getting older, and, at 6-foot-1, his frame was ready to make a move as well. In eight Skip Barber Series Formula 2000 races in 2008, he had four wins and six top 10 finishes. His eventual goal is to become an Indy car driver, a career path that moved a little closer to a possible reality in March when he signed a sponsorship contract with Z-Sports Midwest. ’It’s definitely a step toward the pro ways. I can start making money at it, hopefully, soon,’ said Searcy, a Skip Barber graduate. ‘They’re responsible to make sure the car is fast, basically. They provide the car, the mechanics, tires. They do all my entry stuff.’ The first time Searcy slipped behind the wheel of his new No. 10 formula car was the practice round in Virginia. It was love at first sit. He reached top speeds of 140 miles per hour in the win. He currently ranks seventh (out of 28) in the 2009 F2000 Championship Series Standings, and in the coming months will compete at Lime Rock in Connecticut May 23-25, followed by Mosport in Ontario, Watkins Glen, Summit Point, and Mid-Ohio for the series’˜ six double-race weekends. In his sport, Searcy is a rising international star. But fame, locally, is fleeting. ’A lot of people don’t quite know what it is. More people around here know a lot about NASCAR, so when they hear formula car, they’re not really sure what it is,’ said Searcy who is one of only two drivers from the South competing in the Series which includes drivers from around the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the Barbados. ‘The racing world is small. There’s thousands of people in it, but as far as making it as the driver for the team, in the U.S. there are maybe only 20-25 pro drivers. NASCAR has probably 40 drivers.’ The odds may be against a kid from Tuscaloosa growing up to be a race car driver, but Searcy is proof it can happen. ’Buy a go-kart and just do it,’ he says of the secret to his success. ‘You just have to go for it, and see if it works out. For some it does. For some it just seems not to work out so well. But you’˜ll never know unless you try.’ —————————————————– By Becky Hopf Special to The Tuscaloosa News Copyright © 2009

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