At an age when most teenaged boys are just waiting to get a driver's license, Hunter Bates is wrestling a 2,400-pound race car around two of the trickiest asphalt tracks in the Northeast, and developing into one of the best young talents in the business.
Bates, a 15-year-old sophomore at Middlebury (Vt.) High School who spent his weekends racing in the sportsman division at Albany-Saratoga Speedway and Devil's Bowl Speedway, was named the 2010 Champlain Valley Racing Association Driver of the Year, and for good reason. In 27 races between the two tracks this year, Bates had 23 top-five finishes, including four victories.
And don't forget, this is only his second year behind the wheel of a race car.
"I really love this sport," said Bates while taking part in a tire-testing session at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in early October. "I'm happy as long as I'm racing."
Bates, who played youth hockey for six years before beginning his racing career, got into racing by chance. "I'm divorced, and he would spend weekends with me and we would hang out," said Bates' father, Mark. "One night, we went to Turkey Trot (Turkey Trot Raceway, a go-kart track near Argyle, N.Y.) to watch the races, and I said, is that something you'd be interested in?
"A couple of weeks later, we were racing."
That was in 2004, and Hunter Bates' racing career got off to a shaky start.
"The first night we went to race, it had rained pretty hard," said Mark Bates. "They did a good job getting the track ready, but it was real narrow. Hunter goes out and in the first turn, he gets into the mud in the infield and packs the cart with mud.
"After that, we started going to Ballston Spa. It was a little more forgiving on the asphalt."