Story and photos by Susan Mikula Campbell
This Friday will be better than Christmas for 17-year-old Zach Nash.
The Town of Niagara teenager practically hums with excitement as he talks about his debut race in his own car at Ransomville Speedway.
"Watching it for so long and finally now to be able to do it - it's pretty cool," he said. "I mean, to be on the same track that some of the pros have been on, and my dad, and to be doing it at my age. ..."
The 10th-grader's teachers at Niagara-Wheatfield High School just notified his dad on Tuesday that Zach's grades had improved, a parental requirement for a green flag on racing. One teacher commented, "I guess he REALLY wants to race on Friday!"
Zach does have engines and racing in his blood. His dad, Mike Nash, co-owner of Richards Motor Service on Sweet Home Road, has raced on a dirt track at Ransomville and on asphalt at Dunn Tire Raceway Park in Lancaster. Zach was always there to watch his hero, first as a spectator, then as soon as he was old enough, part of the pit crew. He even took the wheel of a car at Ransomville's annual Jan. 1 Hangover race at the age of 13. Zach's grandfather Carl, a dealership mechanic, was a drag racer in the '60s, and Zach's great-grandfather ran a used car lot.
"I learned from the best," said Zach, explaining, "I'd rather just be in the shop with dad, working on cars. Putting an engine together comes easy to me, but I can't write an essay."
Even though his grades might not always be the best, Zach is a hard worker. He holds down two part-time jobs, one as a cook at St. Angelo's Pizza and the other as a dishwasher at Honey's.
So is a career as an auto mechanic and racer in his future? "Oh, yeah," breathes Zach flashing a grin. He is looking forward to attending the BOCES auto mechanic program during his next two years of high school. He dreams of some day running his own shop.
Although Mike Nash admits he didn't like school either back in the '80s, he had to go and get good grades. The lure of racing was half the battle in getting Zach to want to learn, he said.
Plus, if Zach keeps his grades up, his parents will allow him to get his driver's license - something that's not required at the track.
Meanwhile, there's the summer ahead racing in the four-cylinder class with 24z, the 2002 silver gray Chevy Cavalier provided by a friend of Mike's at a junkyard.
There's plenty of race fans, drivers and owners willing to help the fledgling racer on his way.
"Guys that my dad used to race with are asking about my car and how it's coming along, and giving me advice," Zach said.
As a member of the starter class, his pit area will be farthest away from the track, but the owner of one of the modified cars is allowing use of his closer pit area if Zach needs quick assistance.
Zach also has sponsors lined up. The 24z will be carrying the names of Duncan Heating and Cooling, Kach's Auto, Clancy's Whistle Pig, Formal BBQ, Honey's and, of course, Richards Motor Service.
Mike Nash, who took the Lancaster championship in 2011, is just about as excited as his son about Friday's race, but says he's not at all a nervous dad. To make sure the 24z is as safe as possible, he had Ed's Garage in Youngstown build the roll cage in the car.
"It was safer. I didn't want to do it myself. ... We did everything the correct way. We didn't skimp," Mike said.
"My seat out of my championship car is in this car, the seatbelts are from my modified, it's my helmet, my shoes, my gloves," Mike added.
Zach also will wear his father's old racing suit. "It's shrunken. I must have washed it in too hot water," Mike jokes.
The affection and pride between father and son runs both ways.
Zach, who hopes Mike doesn't really mean it when he says he's retired from racing, asks that one thing be included in his story - "Just a huge thanks to dad for getting me the car and the sponsors, and all the time he put into the car, we both did."