Ask any racecar driver around the world where they got their start in racing and the large majority of them will tell you that they began their racing career in Go-Karts, Legends or some sort of entry-level division. While that path is the one most regularly traveled, it is not the only path traveled by successful short track racers.
Four-time Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA) champion Randy Cabral is a prime example of someone who took the road less traveled, even if it did almost appear to be a dead-end road.
Despite growing up in a racing family with his father, Glen Cabral, racing on the NEMA circuit, the younger Cabral didn’t receive his first chance to drive a racecar until he was 19 years old. Even at that time, the opportunity didn’t come easy.
Cabral, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, began working for his father’s car owner Chuck Welling during the 1995 racing season. At the beginning of that season when Cabral became a crew member for the team, Welling had promised Cabral that if he worked hard and proved himself then he would eventually be given a shot to drive.
Fast forward three years later to 1998, Cabral was a senior in high school and Welling decided it was time to give him a shot to prove himself in a racecar.
That racecar wasn’t your normal entry-level division type of car. The racecar, a NEMA Midget owned by Welling, was one capable of shattering track records across the Northeast.
At first, the speed was too much to handle for the rookie driver. He “hated it” and didn’t believe being a successful racecar driver was anywhere in his future.
“It was the first thing I had ever driven,” Cabral told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I had never driven a race car before that. I actually hated it. It was way too fast and I didn’t like the speed. I said, ‘This just isn’t for me.’”
Cabral was unsure of whether or not he wanted to continue racing at the time, but Welling told him to stick with it for at least the three-race deal they had agreed to. If Cabral still didn’t like it after three races, he had Welling’s approval if he no longer had the desire to drive the car.
“Chuck (Welling) kind of forced it upon me,” said Cabral. “He kept telling me, ‘Go as fast as you can, there’s no pressure here don’t worry about it.’ I didn’t think I was going to, but Chuck told me to give it three races. I started liking it more and ended up racing the whole ’99 season. That was my first full year.”
Since that 1999 season, Cabral has won at least one NEMA feature for the last 15 years – trailing only Midget racing legend Dave Humphrey’s record of 16 consecutive seasons with a win. During that same period of time, Cabral has captured four NEMA championships and has finished no worse than second in the point standings during the past three seasons.
Following the 2005 season, one of the most well-known and successful NEMA car owners, Tim Bertrand, noticed the success Cabral was having and the two came together to form what is now considered to be a dominant race team.
Cabral believes the success he was having with his father performing as a low-budget race team is what caught Bertrand’s attention and got him to where he is today.
“My father and I started on our own,” said Cabral. “I’d say that my success came with Tim Bertrand, but my success actually came with my father and Bertrand saw me being successful with my dad as a low-budget team. The old saying goes, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’
“We hooked up at 2005 at Waterford Speedbowl (CT). My mother was out in the pit area with Tim and Tim looked at my mother when I was on the track and said, ‘We’re going to win a lot of races together.’”
Since that time, the Cabral-Bertrand duo has teamed up to win 33 races and four championships. Combined together with his previous victories while working with his father, Cabral’s 40 career NEMA wins currently ranks fifth all-time. He trails only Drew Fornoro (85), Dave Humphrey (73), Russ Stoehr (49) and Nokie Fornoro (45).
Many of those drivers Cabral is chasing in the record books are drivers that he looked up to and watched as a young kid. Cabral said that he watched those drivers closely during the prime of their careers and tries to carry over some of the things they did right into his own career.
“I don’t really notice it until people bring it up to me, but people have brought it up to me and mentioned some of the records I’m competing against with Dave Humphrey, Drew Fornoro and Russ Stoehr,” said Cabral. “Those are some of the guys I grew up watching saying, ‘someday I want to drive like those guys.’
“I feel like the reason why I am pretty good at doing this is because I did watch those guys for so many years and I saw the mistakes they made and all the good stuff they did. I try not to re-make those mistakes and absorb all of the things they did right.”
While chasing records and becoming one of NEMA’s most successful drivers of all-time, Cabral never had the desire to move up the ladder and race in one of NASCAR’s top-three series. Since the day he started racing, Cabral told his father that his goal in racing was to become a well-known racing figure in the Northeast.
“I’ve always said to my father growing up that’s what I wanted in racing,” said Cabral. “I never wanted to be, like a lot of these other kids, a Sprint Cup driver. I told my dad growing up that I just wanted to be known in the Northeast. I want to be able to go to the race track and have someone in the stands see me and say, ‘that’s Randy Cabral.’ That’s really all I’ve ever really wanted to do. I don’t know if that’s happening or not, but I feel pretty confident in what I’ve done.”
While racing full-time with NEMA, Cabral has also gained additional experience racing a number of different racecars including Mini-Cup cars, Alison Legacy cars, Pro-4 Modifieds, Dirt Midgets and Sprint Cars. If the opportunity presented itself, Cabral says that he would be interested in gaining experience in a full-bodied stock car or a Modified.
Until that opportunity is presented to him, Cabral plans to continue racing with the Northeastern Midget Association and chasing the records set by his racing heroes. While his success may get under the skin of some people including his competitors, Cabral says he only has two groups of people in his mind when he’s on the race track.
“I’m not here for anybody else besides the people in the stands rooting for me and my crew,” said Cabral. “I don’t care what anybody else says. If the competitors don’t like me then I guess I’m doing something right.”
– By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51. Photo credits: Norm Marx