Last weekend’s Red Eye 100 at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway saw some usual names near the front of the field, like Bubba Pollard. But Pollard wasn’t the winner of the first Super Late Model race of 2016, nor were any of the other “usual” names. Instead, it was a driver that not many have heard of, a driver that races quite often at the Florida half-mile, even though he lives in Minnesota.
Cole Anderson held off Pollard to score the win on Saturday, and that led a lot of people to ask, “Who is Cole Anderson?”
The 18-year-old driver doesn’t come from a family with really any racing background. In fact, the way Anderson explains it, he probably wouldn’t be racing if he didn’t go to a friend’s birthday party when he was 10 years old.
“His dad was watching NASCAR on TV,” Anderson told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “They were huge Jeff Gordon fans. I started watching a race with him and got hooked.”
According to Anderson, only one family member had any background in racing, and that was his cousin’s step-father who owned a Hobby Stock at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway. That family member told Anderson’s parents that they should get the youngster a quarter-midget if he really wanted to start racing.
Anderson has now since graduated from quarter-midgets into the Late Model world. He started off racing part-time in Wisconsin where he met someone who became very important to his racing career trajectory.
“Frank Kreyer owns the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series and we raced that,” Anderson said. “I ended up becoming good friends with Frank and he knew we were kind of looking around for something different so he said he knew a kid down in Florida and he offered me to come down and test stuff and see how we could do down there. We got hooked up with Anthony Campi and started to run some races down at New Smyrna and Pensacola.”
He’s now raced quite a few times at New Smyrna Speedway including last weekend’s Red Eye 100 and the Governor’s Cup 200 in November of 2015 which he started from the pole position. But Anderson still calls Northfield, Minnesota home, 1,503 miles away from New Smyrna Speedway.
“It’s pretty tough. We wake up at 4:30 in the morning, get on the plane for a few hours, then it’s an hour drive from Orlando to New Smyrna,” he said. “It really drains you. That first hour of practice is kind of just getting back in the rhythm and remembering how I did it before.”
On top of that, Anderson is still in school. He’s a senior at Northfield High School, so he’s also trying to balance his racing career with school work and a staggering travel schedule.
“It’s mentally draining to try to keep up with school work and try to have a little bit of a social life to hang out with friends,” he said. “It’s definitely a challenge.”
One of the biggest challenges Anderson faces is not missing too many days of school when he has to travel to New Smyrna or Pensacola or really anywhere for one of his races. Fortunately, Anderson said his school has been slightly lenient with him on their attendance policy.
“They didn’t really know what racing was or how big of a deal it was to me and my family at first,” said Anderson. “They said I could only miss 11 days of school, but I talked to them and they said if I needed more then they’d extend it to 15 days.”
But everything became worth it on January 2 when Anderson won the Red Eye 100 at New Smyrna. All of the travel, the missed school days, none of that was thought about when he was in victory lane.
“It was pretty unbelievable in the beginning,” said Anderson. “I’ve never seen my parents so emotional before. It’s finally starting to sink in and it feels pretty cool.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com photo