CONCORD, N.C. – The distance from Tom Harris’ hometown in the United Kingdom to The Dirt Track at Charlotte is nearly 4,000 miles, but he’ll tell you that his journey into American sprint car racing has been much greater than that.
Harris, 28, has been on a season-long quest for knowledge and competition at several of dirt-track racing’s most well-known events. It started in January at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in January in Tulsa, Okla., and ended last weekend during the World of Outlaws World Finals presented by Can-Am.
In between were stops at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway’s Pay Less Little 500 for non-winged sprint cars and at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway for the Grandaddy of Them All, the 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals.
For Harris – a native of Banbury, Oxfordshire – his experience has been the realization of his childhood dreams and a major addition to his racing resume. It’s also been a collaborative process made possible by numerous mainstays in the sprint car industry.
“This adventure has been an amazing experience for me,” Harris told SPEED SPORT. “I can’t thank everyone back home enough for helping me to come out here and do all this. It’s truly been a pleasure.
“As a boy, I played the World of Outlaws Dirtvision game on the Playstation and always dreamed of doing this, and so many people have come together now to make that dream possible,” Harris recalled. “My dad, Robert Ballou, Sammy and Kevin Swindell, Bernie from Indy Race Parts … a lot of people have come together to help get me up to speed.
“It has really been a team effort. Sammy talked me through a lot of things, and he’s probably one of the greatest winged (sprint car) drivers there is, so for him to take interest (in me) and really give me some guidelines has been huge and really paid off for me in a lot of ways,” noted Harris. “Kevin told me after my last heat race on Saturday that I almost looked like I knew what I was doing, so hopefully it’s all steps in the right direction.”
After graduating out of BriSCA F1 stock cars and into dirt short-circuit racing, Harris made his debut stateside in the 2015 Chili Bowl Nationals, with steady progress following each year. He ultimately made this year’s championship A main, finishing 16th in the 24-car field at the crown jewel of midget racing.
His passion for sprint cars, however, was built three years earlier during his early travels to the United States, when he experienced the winged warriors for the first time at a Texas driving school and was instantly enraptured by the power and mystique of the short-track machines.
“Three years ago, I went to Smiley Sitton’s (Outlaw Driving School) in Texas … a couple of my sponsors from back home put it together for me as a bit of a present, and when I got in that thing I was absolutely hooked,” Harris said. “I went to the Chili Bowl after that and it has all progressed since then. I actually made the Chili Bowl A main this year, and then to come to the Knoxville Nationals and World Finals – two of the biggest races in sprint car racing – it’s pretty special.”