Race fans who haven’t heard the name Ernie Francis Jr. have likely been living under a rock.
Twenty-two-year-old Francis is the top star in the Trans-Am Series, a national touring road racing series that features Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers and Corvettes battling for supremacy at tracks across the United States.
Since 2014, Francis has won an astounding six Trans-Am Series championships. His first three came in lower divisions sanctioned by Trans-Am, TA3 American Muscle and TA4. By the time he moved up to Trans-Am’s top class, TA, in 2017, he was already well versed in winning titles.
His winning ways haven’t changed since moving to Trans-Am’s top class. He’s won 19 times in 34 starts the past three seasons, meaning he has stood on the top step of the podium in 55 percent of his races in the TA class.
His regular visits to victory lane also paid off with three consecutive championships, making a case for Francis as one of the all-time greats in Trans-Am Series competition. Francis also earned an SCCA National Championship in the GT-1 division last year.
And he’s only 22 years old.
Francis has loved racing for almost as long as he’s been alive. His father, Ernie Francis, was a club racer with the Sports Car Club of America and the National Auto Sport Ass’n.
“I grew up at the race track watching him,” Francis recalled. “Then, as soon as I turned 4 years old, I got my first go-kart. From there I was just hooked and it kind of just took off from there.”
He raced go-karts for nearly 10 years, but by the time he was 13 Francis had transitioned into the ultra-competitive Spec Miata class. Two years later, he was racing professionally in the Pirelli World Challenge B-Spec division and one year later he was racing in the Trans-Am Series’ TA3 American Muscle class.
Francis credits a lot of his success in the Trans-Am Series to his time spent racing momentum cars, like the Spec Miatas, that require competitors to maintain momentum in order to make passes and gain positions.
“A lot of it just comes down to what I used to race, being that I raced Spec Miatas and a lot of momentum cars when I was younger,” Francis explained. “I think that a lot of the drivers these days are so use to these big horsepower cars and stuff with all these driver aids. They don’t really know how to make these cars carry momentum through the turns, or deal with no ABS and no traction control. I came from cars that didn’t have all that.
“I think I adapt very well to what these cars need and I’m able to just carry a lot of speed through the turns and kind of roll these cars to the center a lot better than most guys can because of my background in racing,” he added. “I was so used to doing that, I just kind of apply it to these higher horsepower cars and it seems to work pretty well.”
When Francis isn’t at the race track making left and right turns, the Florida native spends a lot of his time working on race cars.
The team he drives for, Breathless Racing, is owned by his father and they field multiple cars across Trans-Am, SCCA, NASA and FARA. Someone has to get those cars ready to race and Francis does much of that work.
“I spend a lot of time underneath the cars understanding how they work and what makes them really work good and go fast on the track,” Francis explained. “So it kind of helps out when I get on the track itself. I know what to look for and what to do, what to adjust on these cars to make it work how I want them to. I think it really just plays into to the speed that we have on the track.
“I set up all the race cars, I’m building them, prepping them, scaling, motor swapping, everything that we do to the cars behind the scenes here, I take care of.”
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