Racing a family tradition for Vanzandt
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June 28, 2017  |  by Lyndal Scranton

Lexy Vanzandt's summer is typical of many 16-year-olds in that the Billings High School junior stays busy hopping from basketball camps to volleyball tournaments in preparation for another athletic and school year.

But unlike many teens, who might spend precious spare time at the nearest lake, Vanzandt can be found getting her hands dirty underneath a race car. On weekends, she's behind the wheel of that car going up against some of the nation's best Out-Pace USRA B-Mod drivers.

In her first full season competing at Lucas Oil Speedway, Vanzandt is a solid sixth in the Out-Pace USRA B-Mod points chase. The second half of the season begins with a special Thursday Night Thunder program presented by Casey's General Stores and KY3 for Kids.

"I think it's gone pretty good," Vanzandt said of the 2017 season. "I didn't do very good last year (her first in B-Mods) when I went to Lucas. The competition is just ridiculous that we have around here. Everybody in the USRA, the top 10, is from around here."

From the time Vanzandt was little, there were few doubts she would drive a race car. Her dad, Ted Vanzandt, was a racer and her grandfather, Rex Merritt, is an iconic Modified driver still going strong after nearly four decades of success.

Call it a family affair. Even her cousin, Justin Allen from Urbana, occasionally races at Lucas. Earlier this month, a heat race found Merritt in the same heat race with Vanzandt and Allen.

"That's the main reason I got a B-Mod, so I can race her and my grandson, Justin Allen, who's coming off pavement and back onto dirt," Merritt said. "I'll probably quit after this year and run very little next year. My main goal was to run with the grand kids and race with Lexy. It's fun.

"You can't intimidate her. I always tried to help her and coach her and now she's using everything I've taught her against me. The little squirt listens very well. Almost too well."


Lexi Vanzandt (outside) races side-by-side with her grandfather, Rex Merritt, during an Out-Pace USRA B-Mod race earlier this season.

Vanzandt said going to the races with her family was simply a way of life, which led her into driving go-karts and, eventually, bigger cars.

"My dad started racing when my mom (Kicia) was pregnant with me and he quit when I was about 10," she said. "There for a while when I was playing around with go-karts my mom said, 'We're not going to get too serious and just see how she likes it.' A couple of years later, my dad sold all his racing stuff so i could get better go-karts. It just progressed from there."

Vanzandt was Monett Speedway Rookie of the Year in the introductory-level Midwest Mod class in 2014, track champion there in 2015 and moved into the more-advanced Out-Pace USRA B-Mods a year ago. She again won top rookie honors at Monett, along with the sportsmanship award.

This year, the team set out to test the waters as a regular at Lucas Oil Speedway. While winning a feature is an obvious goal, she said a top-five finish would be great considering the competition.

"I think she's doing real well and I'm very proud of her," Merritt said of the season's first half. "Not only racing, but the way she conducts herself. Plus, she's a 16-year-old girl who not only races, but does most all of her own maintenance. Everything on a car is hands-on for her."

Vanzandt said that was part of the deal with her Dad and "Papa" when she began racing.

"I was told at the beginning of racing, when I was little, that if i don't help work on the car that I won't race that weekend," she said. "So as soon as I get home from a (volleyball or basketball) game or practice, me and my dad go out there and we work until things get done on the car."

That sweat equity often is exchanged from knowledge from Merritt, who always is ready to offer helpful tips both on and off the track.

"A couple of weeks ago it was me, my cousin and Papa in the same heat and I was a little nervous at first because he is such a big role model to me," Vanzandt said. "It was hard racing with him. I catch myself watching him instead of racing, sometimes.

"But I've watched him race for so many years that I learn every time I'm around him, different things and different tricks that he has."

Merritt laughed about Lexy using one of those tricks against him on a restart earlier this season.

"The only tire marks on the left side of my car are from her," he said. "She was doing exactly what I taught her. She's a tough little racer."

Vanzandt said she would like to eventually work her way into a position to compete on the United States Modified Touring Series, where the best of the best in the Modified world apply their trade. Merritt said the sky is the limit.

"Her head's on right," he said. "She's grown up around adults all her life. She thinks more like an adult than a teen-ager. She can go as far as she wants to.

"She's on the A-Plus program at school and doing some college credit stuff now. She's lettered and starts on the varsity team in basketball and volleyball. She carries that competitive spirit with her there, as well."

Vanzandt's sponsors include Tailpipers, Day Motors, Yeoman Race Engines, Bassett, D1 Resources, AFCO, Midwest Sheet Metal, Chix Gear, Performance Bodies, Jerovetz Shock Services and Sancrest Trailer Sales.

"I have a lot of people who help me," she said of the sponsors. "Plus my parents and Grandpa. They're my main help and I can't thank them enough."

She's back in action on Thursday in a pre-holiday-weekend program that includes racing in all four weekly divisions plus the lake area's largest fireworks show following the races. AM Pyrotechnics will light up the night sky in a celebration of the upcoming holiday. Fans can visit participating area Casey's for $2 discount coupons for admission tickets.

The Warsaw Auto Marine & RV ULMA Late Models will featured in a special 25-lap, $1,000-to-win main event courtesy of Rains Ice.

There's also a kids' bicycle giveaway during intermission. Youngsters can sign up for the bicycle drawings at the Frogs Signs Jr. Fan Club table on the midway. Drawings will be held, based on age groups and size of bicycles.

Anyone interesting in donating bicycles prior to Thursday can drop them off at the speedway office or contact Assistant General Manager Danny Lorton at (417) 282-5984 or via email at dlorton@lucasoilspeedway.com.

There also will be a drivers' autograph session on the south end of the midway from 5:30-6:15 p.m. for kids to meet and get autographs of their favorite drivers.

Gates open at 5 p.m. with hot laps at 7 and racing at 7:35.

Admission prices:
Adults (16 and up) $15
Seniors (62 and up)/Military $12
Youth (ages 6-15) $5
Kids (ages 5 and under) FREE
Family Pass $30
Pit Pass $30

Lucas Oil Speedway is located at Highways 83 and 54 in Wheatland, Missouri. A campground with shower and bathroom facilities is also available. With its entrance located just outside the pit gate this sprawling scenic camping facility will continue to enhance the racing experience at the Diamond of Dirt Tracks.

Please visit www.LucasOilSpeedway.com for more information and detailed directions to the speedway or call the Track Hotline at (417) 282-5984. In addition, fans can get social with Lucas Oil Speedway by following @LucasSpeedway on Twitter, clicking "Like" at www.facebook.com/LucasOilSpeedway and on www.youtube.com/LucasOilSpeedway.



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