GAYLORD, Mich. — For Robert Ballou, racing a sprint car under the California sun was as natural as walking or kicking a ball. The Rocklin, Calif., native was driving a race car when other kids his age were only racing hot wheels.
Ballou’s father, John, raced as a child, and when Ballou was four years old John strapped him into a quarter midget to make laps. At age 5 Ballou began competing throughout the state and the nation in the quarter-midget ranks, landing a ride in a chassis house car and picking up two National Grands wins before moving into Outlaw Karts at age 12. Ballou laughingly said, “I then got a sprint car and I think I was 16 years old for about three years because you had to be 16 to race.”
In 2003 with only eight winged sprint car events under his belt, Ballou proved he was definitely in his element by picking up a top-10 points finish at Petaluma Speedway, the following year Ballou become the youngest driver in history to win a Golden State Challenge race, he also placed third in the Civil War Series and captured the tours rookie-of-the-year title, he posted four wins in 34 starts and 12 top-five finishes.
By 2006, Ballou was ready to take on even more challenges and at the age of 17 he moved from the West Coast to Indiana.
Ballou now makes Westfield, Ind., his home and has solidified himself as one of the toughest non-winged sprint car drivers in the Midwest with such notable accomplishment as winning the 2007 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway, the 2008 Ron Shuman Classic, the 2008 Don Smith Classis and conquering the Lawrenceburg Nationals twice.
Being in that elite class is a huge accomplishment as the competition is extremely tough, “In the USAC sprint car ranks there are 10 drivers that can win on any night,” exclaimed Ballou.
Ballou is one of few self-funded teams competing on the USAC circuit which has been rewarding but difficult. “It feels good to run up front and know that I am doing it 90 percent out of my own pocket,” Ballou said. “The downside though is that I used to race full time, but now that I am on my own I am working full-time at H&R Industrial. I have learned that it’s too hard to own my own racecar and get paid. Now I work to get paid and spend it all to go race. But that means that I have to run up front and win racing in order to keep the team going.”
Balancing work and a full-time race team takes hard work, dedication and an incredible amount of support. Support is definitely something that Ballou has an ample amount of; his wife Sacha has not only been around the sport for a number of years, she has been an integral part of it; often acting as a scorer for various speedways and organizations. Her involvement has been a huge part of Ballou’s success.
“She is understanding of the fact that I am gone 20 hours a day, six days a week. There is not much time for her until winter comes,” Ballou said. “Racing full time can be hard on everybody.”
Knowing the toll that a full-time schedule takes on a family, Ballou is grateful for the backing he gets from not only his family, but Sacha’s as well. Her parents are often at the track sitting alongside his two biggest fans; daughters Aubreigh (12) and Ella (9).
Although Ballou has scored numerous wins in USAC as well as other non-winged sanctions both as a hired gun and in his own No. 12, he is far from reaching the pinnacle of his career. Still considered one of the sports young guns at age 25, Ballou is taking great strides in making a name for himself in the history books of non-winged sprint car racing.
“The ultimate goal for us right now is to win races,” stated Ballou, “A lot of these guys go out and chase points. We go to almost all of the USAC races, but only when we can afford it and if we can’t then it’s no big deal.”
Ballou is also looking forward to delving into new endeavors in the upcoming season.
“We are going to be getting back to winged racing in 2014,” Ballou said. “I am really rusty at the winged side of things, but it is where I came from and, hopefully, we can run a handful of winged shows which I think will also help our non-winged program.”
With a challenging yet successful 2013 in the books, Ballou is definitely excited for in the upcoming season and fans from coast to coast will enjoy watching the No.12 Maxim chassis in 2014.