“My first race was at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino. I was 15 and it was Legends cars.”
El Cajon’s Chase Catania, now 20 years old, is talking into a tinny cell phone from faraway North Carolina. He’s a driver in the seven-week, ten-race Summer Shootout Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Said series is known for producing future NASCAR drivers.
Chase began racing in 2007, claiming Rookie of the Year honors at Orange Show Speedway. Since then he has racked 135 starts, 107 finishes in the top five, and 65 wins.
Chase says, “Legends are scaled-down [5/8 scale] versions of a ’34 Ford coupe and ’37 Chevy sedan. They’ve got 150 horsepower in a 1250cc Yamaha motorcycle engine and weigh 1200 pounds. Legends cars teach you the whole deal about racing: power control, keeping the wheels under you, getting the car to go straight.
“In the [Charlotte Motor Speedway] Legends car series [classifications], they’re Young Lions, Semi-Pro, and Pro. I’ve run enough races to where I’m graduated up to the Pro division and run with the top guys in the nation.”
I ask, “Where did you get money?”
“My dad, mainly,” Chase says. “He raced when I was growing up, got me a Legends car when I was 15. He started racing in Bomber Stock [usually dirt-track racing], went to Street Stock. The last race car he drove was a modified open-wheel 600-horsepower at the El Cajon Speedway.”
Chase tells me he went to Grossmont High School, graduated in 2010. “I was probably the only kid that raced in high school. Everybody knew me as the kid who raced. I was gone every Friday, gone racing. It was pretty cool.”
“Were you winning races from the beginning?”
Chase says, “Yeah, I think it was my third or fourth race. We went out to Lake Havasu and won my first main event there. Qualified first, started third, got the lead, and never looked back.”
I ask, “What does it take to make it all the way to NASCAR?”
“It’s about having consistent finishes, running good, qualifying good, and winning. I started in Legends, ran those for three or four years. Then, last year, I started in Late Model, which is a full-sized car, a step up from the Legends cars. And then I’ve run a couple ASA Speed Truck races. Speed Truck is similar to Late Model.”
“What’s the next step?”
“Second week of July I’ll be doing an ARCA [Automobile Racing Club of America] at Gresham Motorsports Park.”
For readers who are motor-sports deficient, I should note that most ARCA cars have been used in NASCAR races. ARCA has a national circuit, races on superspeedways, is televised on SPEED, and regarded as a traditional stepping stone into NASCAR.
Chase says, “Money is an issue for me. As you get higher in racing, it gets way more expensive; it’s all about money at that point. I’ll do the ARCA test and then, if I come up with some sponsorship, I’ll do a race at Berlin, Michigan, in the ARCA Series.”
“So, now it’s about getting sponsors?”
Chase says, “Unless you have a rich family, you’ve got to get somebody to back you up. There are people out there who will put money up for one particular driver if he has the talent and they can see he has a future. So far, I’m on that path. I’ve turned enough heads to get me to where I am now.
“There are a bunch of people trying to do the same thing I am; only a very select group make it. They usually have talent and money. You’ve got to come up with both and do well when you test the ARCA car.”
I ask, “You get one shot? If you’re not having a good race at the ARCA test, then that’s it for you?”
“Pretty much, yeah. For me, that’s how it would be. A lot of people can keep going because they have money. I’ll probably get one shot at it. I have belief in myself. I’ve run my Late Model six times and won three races, so I know I have the talent. It’s just a matter of if everything goes right.
“I’m in good hands. The guy who will be crew-chiefing the ARCA car is Gene Roberts. He was Bill Elliot’s former crew chief back when Elliot was winning championships. There are a lot of good people behind me. I’ve gone forward ever since I set foot in a race car. Hopefully, I can keep carrying on and make it to NASCAR. Any form of NASCAR would be great.”
Curious about sponsoring Chase? Email [email protected] for particulars.