When finding out how a racer got his or her start in the sport, the answer often follows one of two general paths — racing has been a family pastime for multiple generations or said racer wanted to get behind the wheel while watching the sport as a kid.
But for 15-year-old Connor Okrzesik, a Mobile, Ala., native who recently finished 13th in his first visit to the prestigious Snowball Derby, his career started more by the means of solicitation.
“Well, my dad owns (his own) business,” Okrzesik said. “There was a shop next door, and they called my dad and said, ‘Hey, we have a go-kart for sale and we know you have a son. We’d like to see if you’d like to buy it.’”
Okrzesik is not sure if the seller offered his dad a discount, but something must have gotten his attention.
“(My dad) took me to a (local) dirt track, and he asked me if I wanted to race,” Okrzesik said. “I said, ‘OK,’ and I’ve been racing ever since.”
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Okrzesik was 4 years old when he got his start in that go-kart his dad purchased and he moved up to the national level of go-kart racing three years later. Before moving onto the next thing, Okrzesik won multiple national titles, including some with the World Karting Ass’n. It wasn’t many years later when Okrzesik moved into the Bandolero ranks, winning 13 straight races at one point.
At age 12, Okrzesik moved into Legend Cars and the Pro Challenge series, which runs scale models of stock cars from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that house four-cylinder engines under the hood instead of eight. Okrsezik added the big cars into the mix the next season, competing in the sportsman class at nearby race tracks like Alabama’s Mobile Int’l Speedway and Florida’s famous Five Flags Speedway.
By 2015, Okrzesik had Legend Car, Pro Challenge and Super Truck, as well as pro late model and super late model races on his schedule. With as many races in a super late model as he could count on one hand by the end of the 2016 season, Okrzesik made the trip down to Five Flags Speedway for the annual Snowball Derby in December — a trip that around 70 other drivers made, and only 36 made the show.
Okrzesik made the show, but not on time — he had to race his way in through the last-chance qualifier.
“We probably would have made it in on time, but we were bottoming out really badly in qualifying,” Okrzesik said. “There’s a big pressure that starts building (during qualifying), like, ‘OK, I have to beat this time to make the show, so I better go out and do it.’”
But pressure isn’t something Okrzesik wants to get rid of. Despite always noticing that he has a “quick learning curve in the car,” hopping into a super late model means Okrzesik regularly has to race against some of the most talented drivers not on a national tour.