If you see Nick Grodi behind the wheel of a NASCAR automobile some day, don't
Racing is in the Oak Harbor High School junior's blood.
Grodi's father, Mark, and his great-grandfather both raced Enduro cars, and his grandfather raced mini-stocks.
"I took the No. 40 from my grandpa and great-grandpa," Grodi said, "so I'm a third-generation driver. I love the adrenaline rush (racing) gives you and the thrill. It's cool.
"When I was about 4 or 5, we went to the Toledo Recreation Center for a home and garden show and me and my dad heard some noises at the track there, where they had the quarter midgets. We went over and checked that out and I liked them. I guess I told my dad, 'That one's mine!' and 'That one's mine!' A couple years later we got a race car and I really got into it."
Grodi, 16, began racing quarter midgets at age 7, and as a driver he has since won 171 feature races, 21 championships, one Grand National Championship and five Driver of the Year awards.
Grodi moved up to the mini-sprint division on dirt tracks in 2007 and had success there. He then moved up to race modifieds in 2008 and earned Rookie of the Year, True Rookie of the Year, and Best Appearing Car awards at Sandusky Speedway.
In 2009, Grodi finished fourth in championship points at Sandusky Speedway in the modified division.
Now, he's ready to move up to the big time.
On Oct. 31, Grodi received the call he had been anxiously waiting for from Ron Sutton, who told the young driver that he had earned a $40,000 sponsorship from K&N Filters for the Ron Sutton Winner's Circle NASCAR Driving Development Program.
The goal of Ron Sutton's Winner's Circle program "is to find the next young guns with the talent and fire to go all the way to professional racing careers in NASCAR," according to Sutton's website. The selected drivers "will become part of the No. 1 NASCAR-focused Driver Career Development Program in the United States. They will be raced, groomed, coached, tested, trained and molded into what NASCAR Cup teams want in their drivers."
The application process is open each year to all drivers age 11-19 with race-winning backgrounds.
"Ron Sutton has raced all kinds of different cars," said Grodi, whose favorite NASCAR drivers are Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. "Pretty much everything you can race, he's raced it. We saw a program on the Internet (based) in California and sent a resume in, and I was one of 131 people who were chosen out of 750-something applicants."
Following a phone interview, Grodi was selected as one of 40 young drivers to make the trip to Sacramento, Calif., on Oct. 2-5. Grodi went with his parents, Mark and Richele.
"We went through a class Ron Sutton had on Saturday, which told us how to drive the race car and how he wants us to drive it and what to tell him," Grodi said. "We got done with classes and on Sunday we got to drive the cars. I drove a NASCAR Grand American Modified. We had 100 total laps - five sessions of 20 laps - Stockton 99 Speedway.
"The first session, we went slow to get the line down. The second session we went a little bit faster, like 80 percent throttle, and saw if we could do the line faster. The third time it was the same thing, and the fourth time we went flat-out as fast as we could go but still running the line. It was a quarter-mile track, so we were going about 85 miles an hour. I do about 135 at Sandusky Speedway, which is a half-mile track, or probably a little faster than that at Toledo Speedway.
"The fifth session, we went as fast as we could go, but he didn't talk to us unless we did something wrong. I thought I did pretty good."
Each of the 40 drivers received report cards on their driving ability, and Grodi received a 141 score, which was well above average.
"I thought that was pretty cool," he said. "Out of those 40 kids, they took 10-12 and sorted those guys out, and I guess I was the top one. It was pretty cool that I won."
Grodi said the Winner's Circle weekend "was a great experience."
"It was very informational and an excellent learning opportunity," he said.
The Driver Development Program will begin in December in California. Grodi, who was chosen to participate in the program, said he will get his schedule on Dec. 5.
"They're called workshops and they do them on weekends," Grodi said. "In February or March, there will be three more weekends where we have to go out there for more classes. Once the classes are done, we race in their American Modified Series."
Grodi's mother, Richele, said the family is "very proud" of Nick's accomplishment.
"We were very excited," she said. "It all happened so fast. By the third driving session out there they pretty much said 'show us what you've got.' We were very impressed. Even other parents who were waiting there for their kids to drive said Nick was very consistent and very good. He was very consisent with all his laps."
The $40,000 K & N Air Filter sponsorship that Grodi won will cover the cost of 24 classroom courses and 10 races. However, Grodi will have to raise his own additional funds in order to participate in all of the events.
"It's $33,000 for us to race and $12,500 for the crash fund," he said. "If I wreck, they'll take money out of if I crash. We're going to try to do some fund-raising, such as a race calendar, a couple of chicken dinners, a pancake breakfast and a steak roast at the Carroll Township Hall in Oak Harbor."
Grodi's racing sponsors are Offshore Performance Center, The Delp Company, Trailer Wiz, Productive Tools, and Warpaint.
"We also have family and friends who all come to the track to help us with tires and fuel," Richele said.
For more information on how to help Grodi raise money to participate in the Ron Sutton Winner's Circle NASCAR Driving Development Program, call 419-898-0248.