There’s a bunch of clichés out there about how hard work pays off and the struggle makes success taste sweeter. Dylan Slepian, a driver in the Legends car division at the Long Island, New York bullring of Riverhead Raceway is now a firm believer of both of those clichés.
Slepian, of Dix Hills, New York is in the midst of his sixth season in the Legends car ranks at Riverhead. He had gone five full years without ever scoring a win. He had won a few heat races, but was never able to take the checkered flag in a feature event. That finally changed on May 23 when he took the checkered flag in a 20-lap feature in his orange Hurricane Grill and Wings no. 63 machine.
“The first one was unreal. It was amazing,” Slepian told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I came from fifth-place and I was passing cars and there was finally a point with just maybe five laps to go where I had a few car length lead and I got to think to myself that I might finally have one.
“It was wild just coming across the line and feeling that pressure leave my shoulders and see everybody come up to me in victory lane. It was something that was very uniquely special. You don’t get too many of those types of moments. I just wanted to sit back and feel all of the emotions and everything.
“The most special part of that was actually my friends and my family all coming down to congratulate me. So when I do think back, it was all those victory lane hugs that make it really special. Especially when my racing idols were the ones that came down to congratulate me.”
Since then Slepian has won two more times, including a race that paid out $1,000. The 20-year-old driver has gotten to this point mostly all by himself, too.
“I work on the car all by myself during the week,” Slepian said. “I come to the track by myself, I load up the car by myself. I put all the tools and everything in the trailer by myself in the morning, but when I’m at the track my girlfriend’s family helps me a lot. The Soper family helps me out a lot too because Kyle isn’t racing Legends anymore. So I do get a lot of help as far as coming off the track. They’ll check air pressures and stuff like that. But still it’s a majority me when it comes to during the week prep.”
Part of what has made this journey so difficult for Slepian is that he doesn’t come from a racing family. Unlike his friends like Kyle Soper, Kyle Ellwood, and Brendon Bock, the three most recent Legends car champions at Riverhead, Slepian is a first-generation driver. His parents weren’t race fans before he started racing. He just happened to have an affinity for racing. But because he didn’t come from a racing family, he didn’t get in a car for the first time until he was 15. So he turned to the next best thing.
“I started out iRacing and then eventually my parents kind of realized that they wanted to indulge me in this and let me try it in the real world,” he said. “At that point I was too old for a go-kart so we decided to go for a Legends car. It’s been a long way because I started at zero in Legends car.”
While he had some help from his parents when he started a few years ago, Slepian now funds his racing operation entirely on his own. He lays down flooring all over Long Island for Lowe’s. He also managed to make the Dean’s List at Stony Brook University, where he majors in Economics. He said he feels that funding his racing by himself and by doing all that he does by himself has helped his maturation process in and out of the race car.
“I know I’ve come a long way,” he said. “Just with laying down floors I’ve been able to buy my own set of scales and a caster and camber gauge. And me being able to learn how to set this car up every single week. As recent as last year I wouldn’t scale the car unless I wrecked it. Not because I didn’t want to or because I was lazy, but I honestly didn’t know how to.”
Learning those things helped Slepian get into Riverhead’s victory lane, which eased the pressure that he was feeling. Because he was feeling pressure. Even when he’d just joke around with his friends, it was often about him getting into victory lane and even maybe winning a championship.
“My three closest friends are the last three Legends champions,” said Slepian. “Kyle Ellwood won it in 2012, Brendon Bock won it in 2013 and Kyle Soper was last year. They’ve moved on to bigger and better things in Modifieds and that kind of leaves me as the odd man out. We were all kind of joking over the offseason that ‘Slep’ has to keep the streak going.'”
And now Slepian is actually in a position to keep that streak going. Riverhead’s Legends car season is just starting to close in on the midway point of the year, and Slepian is the current points leader over Richie Davidowitz by 14 points.
“That would be incredible,” Slepian said. “That’s been the goal since I built this car in the offseason. There’s no way I could build a car without having the championship in the back of my mind. I’m so fortunate to be in that position now and that everything we talked about over the winter is starting to come to fruition.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Rich Frost Photo