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Auroran an up-and-coming race car driver, wins title at Mid-Ohio

by BOB GAETJENS | REPORTER Published: October 5, 2016 1:00 AM
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Aurora -- Speeding around a track was nothing new to 2016 Aurora High School graduate Ryan Norman when he took up Formula car racing at age 15.

Although he races Formula Atlantic cars now, he got his start at age 3, when he received a "little Honda 50 with training wheels," said his father John Norman.

As a child, Ryan competed in motocross races, which John said was "more of a hobby; he wasn't thinking of it as a career."

However, Ryan said he plans to pursue Formula car racing as a professional. On Sept. 25, he took a step toward that goal by winning the Sports Car Club of America's Formula Atlantic Runoffs at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington near Mansfield.

"It was really dry, but it was early in the morning, and I want to say it was in the high 40s. It took a long time for the tires to heat up," said Ryan of the race. "It actually was very slippery. Pretty much through 80 percent of the race, the tires were still coming up to temperature."

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That win completed a sweep of major events for the 2016 season, Ryan said.

He also won the Atlantic Championship Series, which is a tour of races in which drivers earn points toward a season championship, and the U.S. Major Tour, which helped him qualify for the Sept. 25 race at Mid-Ohio.

At Mid-Ohio, Ryan did more than just win; he bested a 2005 track record held by Graham Rahal.

"That's Bobby Rahal's son, and he's now an Indy Car driver," said John.

RAHAL'S record track record was 1:16.6, and Ryan lowered it to 1:14.9.

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Ryan said he felt confident entering the final race, in which he had the pole position, which he said helped a lot.

"We had the speed all weekend in qualifying," he said. "I was able to get a good start and got in the lead, and was consistently a little bit faster than the guy behind me."

A few years from now, if everything goes as planned, the past couple years may seem like nothing more than transition years from motocross racing, which Ryan gave up, to Formula car racing.

He said he decided to give up motocross because it's very competitive, and, more importantly, very dangerous.

"With motocross, there's so many injuries involved," he said. "You can fly off a bike and land on the hard ground."

He said he also missed some high school class time because of motocross.

Ryan said cars have always held a strong allure for him.

"I've always loved cars," he said. "My dad's always had nice cars. We went to the Indy 500 back in 2009. I was pretty much hooked at that point."

His first car racing came at 15 when he attended the Skip Barber Racing School.

"As soon as I hopped out of a car, I was like 'this is unbelievable,'" he said.

His dad said it was clear pretty quickly that Ryan had driving talent.

"It wasn't until he started excelling in the Formula cars that we realized he has something special," said John. "He hasn't hit a plateau like a lot of young people do."

John said Ryan takes racing very seriously, devoting hundred of hours off-track to improving his chances.

"Ryan works at this 24 hours a day," he said, noting he works hard to improve his physical and mental toughness so he can compete with the best on the track.

"The endurance you need to do what he does is pretty high because of the mental focus and physical part, too," said John. "Your heart rate is up there. I think it's 140 to 150 beats a minute for 45 minutes."

Ryan said he combines the physical and mental training, which includes a diet completely devoid of fast food, with the business side of racing.

"Me and my dad usually spend a couple hours a day talking about sponsorship opportunities," he said. "Up until this point, we've been self-funded, and I've been really thankful to my dad for helping me get this far."

He's hoping for sponsorships for next year's season as he jumps from Formula Atlantic to Formula Lights, which is one level below Indy Car, the top Formula racing level nationwide, according to John.

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4188

Email: bgaetjens@recordpub.com

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