Devin O’Connell was in kindergarten in Chatham, Mass., when he noticed a girl around his age involved in go-kart racing. Her dad owned his own full-sized modified car. At the age of 5, O’Connell was hooked.
“I told my dad, ‘I want to do this,’ but he said, ‘No, you can’t walk down hallways straight.’ But that didn’t stop me,” O’Connell said.
A few years later, at the Eastern States Exposition in nearby Springfield, O’Connell and his father, Sean, discovered a local league called the “Wild Thing Karts” racing series, which ran races each Monday at the half-mile Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut. The O’Connells bought their first kart for $2,500 in March 2007. It had been sitting in a garage for the past two years, according to Sean.
“We got it home and running, but we didn’t know how to work it much at all,” Devin O’Connell said. “We showed up at our very first race with a utility trailer, a bicycle pump, the kart and a Leatherman tool.”
Running on old tires and expecting the worst in an experienced 17-car field, honorary crew chief Sean O’Connell sent his son out; he finished third.
“It was a huge accomplishment for us,” his father said. “When we started racing, we seemed to be good at beating these kids who came from typical racing families, and we were just going off of raw talent.”
Seven years and a move down the East Coast to Waxhaw later, Team O’Connell finished as runners-up this January in the 2013 Allison Legacy racing series, earning Most Improved Driver honors and the Sportsmanship Award.
Devin O’Connell, now 16, finished in the top five of 14 of last season’s 17 races, including a first place finish in the Allison Legacy Shootout race this past November at Florence Motor Speedway (S.C.).
The Allison Legacy Touring Series is a racing division started by the three sons of NASCAR driver Donnie Allison. Drivers race on tracks throughout the Carolinas and southern Virginia. An Allison Legacy car is a three-quarter-sized replica of a Sprint Cup car, powered by a four-cylinder engine capable of reaching speeds over 100 miles per hour.
“It can be pretty expensive,” the younger O’Connell said of the constant repairs and modifications he and his father do for the two cars in their Waxhaw garage. “But if you don’t wreck, it’s not terrible.”
It’ll help if Waxhaw’s racing family can secure more sponsors. Racing is an expensive sport. The more notoriety Devin O’Connell gets, the better.
Luckily, the racing O’Connell’s good-natured personality has earned him fast friendships.
In one race, he and his father noticed a fellow competitor’s carburetor was acting up minutes before the starting flag. In a flash of sportsmanship, the pair helped out their opponent and got the rival team on the track “in the nick of time.”
“Everybody in the sport is a good person, and everybody’s willing to give all they can,” Sean O’Connell said. “If someone crashes, it’s all hands down to get them back on the track.”
As the 2014 season heats up, Devin’s Legacy schedule will have him racing almost every two weeks for the rest of the year. He’ll take three trips to the Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, a track known for being the “fastest 3/8-mile race track in America.”
“If you show your name a lot at these events, you can get a full time ride,” Devin O’Conell said. “It comes down to: How do you make it to the next level? This is what we love to do,, and it’s what we want to be around.”
David Thackham is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for David? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.