Racing around fifth- and half-mile dirt tracks is where Lyndon Harvey feels most at home – tearing up the dirt as he looks to make his next move at 80 mph.
It’s something that comes naturally for Lyndon, an eighth-grader at Victory Christian Academy, who only got into competitive racing three years ago.
Most of his opponents have been racing go-carts since they were 6.
“Friends of ours raced but we never had an in,” his father and crew chief, Chad Harvey, said. “Lyndon had talked about racing when he was little. By the time we got into it, this is what the kids were graduating to. It has been a steep learning curve.”
But after 37 heat and feature wins, things are coming into form.
When Lyndon was 11 the Harveys bought a mini-sprint car – a 600 sprint with a 600 cc engine – and began this life-changing process.
Neither Lyndon or his dad had much experience. They learned together on the fly.
“It took us a year-and-a-half to get anywhere close to being competitive,” Chad said. “It took us another six months to learn how to run at the front. Once you learn how to get there you have to learn how to stay there.”
The Harveys took what advice they could from others around the track. They were spending 40 hours a week in the shop, tweaking and twisting, trying to get the car set up.
“Everybody is usually good about helping you out and getting you in the right direction,” Chad explained. “After two months though, we just stripped the car all the way down and built it back to see how everything works.
“You’re going to make mistakes the first time, but eventually you’re going to learn it. It’s going to force you to learn it.”
After paying their dues the first 18 months, the hard work started paying off. Chad was learning just how Lyndon wanted the car set up, and Lyndon was gaining valuable track experience. The two were getting things down to an exact science.
“Learning how to drive the car, and learning how to set the car up – just little tiny changes can make the difference between first place and 10th place,” Chad said. “First and fifth can sometimes be under half a second. When you get to that level, its precision.”
It didn’t take Lyndon long to get comfortable behind the wheel. The first few races he was just trying to go fast without hitting anyone.
Now, anything less than the top spot is a disappointment.
Most weekends, Lyndon is racing against guys who have had families in the sport for generations. He is starting his own family tradition.
“All this knowledge is handed down to them,” Chad said. “For us it’s been learning along the way. It’s kind of enjoyable to go from where we were to where we’re today.”
For now it’s just a hobby and nothing more for the Harveys. With very little prize money, there is little incentive to race, except for the fun and experience.
With fuel running $200, another $400 for tires and a couple of engines a year, things begin to add up fast. Lyndon’s parents let him keep what little prize money he does get.
“Racing doesn’t dollar out,” Chad said. “Richard Petty once said ‘You know how to win a million dollars in racing?’ Start with 2 million!’ There is a lot of truth to that.
“This is just a learning tool. This gives him experience and teaches him how to win and lose with grace.”
They frequent tracks from Houston to Tulsa. One of their favorites in Newcastle, Okla., about 12 miles from Moore, was recently destroyed by the devastating tornado that struck the area.
“A lot of tracks are struggling right now,” Chad said. “With the economy and this stuff becoming so expensive – it’s getting to where a lot of folks just can’t afford it.”
With racing such a big-time money sport, Lyndon is staying focused on his long-term goals. Most drivers his age want to get to NASCAR, but he keeps that in the back of his mind for now.
“I want to drive a big sprint car at the Chili Bowl [in Tulsa],” Lyndon said. “That’s where Tony Stewart and all the big race drivers go. That’s what I want to get to.
“Right now we would just like to move up through the ranks and have fun.”
The World of Outlaws might be a more realistic goal for Lyndon. Staying on the dirt is something the Harveys would prefer.
“We’ve both run the pavement, and it’s boring,” Chad said. “The dirt is where it’s at. That is the most fun part.
“The car gets dirty getting to sling the dirt, and you’re beating and banging. It’s just a lot more enjoyable.”
Racing every week has turned into more than winning and losing for the Harveys – it’s a complete family event, as the whole family loads up every weekend to travel to each race.
“We all go every weekend,” Chad said. “Lyndon has two No.1 fans – his sister Reagan and his adoptive Uncle Ronald.
“Ronald almost goes to every race with us. He’s so into it and helps Lyndon out. His sister has made a lot of sacrifices, too.”
His grandparents also make the trip periodically to give Lyndon a supportive following for each race. His mother, Amanda, says it can be tough to watch.
“Your heart rate goes up every time,” she said. “It’s definitely not something you get used to, as far as nerves.”
Despite the high rate of speed and dangerous turns, the micro-sprints are relatively safe. Lyndon has had his share of wrecks but nothing serious.
“After you flip, you get a little sore, but it happens so quick,” he said. “It’s kind of fun when you’re flipping, but afterwards you’re mad.”
Lyndon has to keep his grades up to keep enjoying his favorite sport. He also plays basketball and baseball but has a tough time giving those sports their due, with all the racing he’s committed to.
From now until January he’ll race an average of three weekends a month.
The Harveys have come a long way since those early days in the shop, and Lyndon continues to pick things up every time out.
“I’ve learned a lot more so it’s gotten better,” he said. “Once you win a race you get a lot more confident at the track. You don’t feel intimidated by anybody – they are just another car.”
With the wins coming in and confidence building, there should be a lot more in store for this young racer.
“It used to be we went to just finish the race,” Chad said. “Then we went to get a top-10. Now we go and expect to win it. That’s the attitude.”