WIMAUMA — She likes to drive fast. She likes winning.
And she's only 7.
Savannah Hrubar, quarter midget car racer, will be the first girl crowned champion in the Junior Honda division at the Ambassador Race Track on State Road 672 at Speedway Drive, a few miles east of U.S. 301. She is the overall champion in her division at the track during the season that started in February and ended the first week of December.
"I am going to be a famous race car driver," said Savannah, who lives in Bradenton with her mother Karrie Hrubar, 43.
Savannah is in the second grade at St. Joseph Catholic School. Her dream is to race in NASCAR. Her favorite driver and role model is Danica Patrick. She likes Danica because "she is the only girl" on the track, just like Savannah at Ambassador.
"Danica tries harder and harder. I try hard every race," Savannah said. "I usually win."
A lot of NASCAR drivers get their start at Savannah's age or a year or two younger in quarter midgets — the first level of competitive racing. Quarter midget drivers can start at age 4 ½ and go to 16. Savannah has another season in the Junior Honda division, which goes to age 8 and car and driver cannot weigh more than 250 pounds. She says she "absolutely" wants to move up to next level, Senior Honda.
Savannah's paternal grandfather, Wally Waynick of Parrish, whom she calls "Pappy," got her interested in racing two years ago. He took his only grandchild to races and it piqued her interest. Growing up in Maryland, he caught the racing bug from his father, who was from North Carolina, the home of NASCAR.
Years ago, Waynick, 65, says, he used to race in what is now called NASCAR's Busch series.
Karrie Hrubar says her daughter bonds with her grandfather over racing. Savannah watches races with him and he explains a lot of what's going on. They talk about passing and running a clean race, no bumping. The main thing her grandfather tells her is to have fun.
Learning to drive a race car wasn't easy for 4-foot-6, 75-pound Savannah. In the beginning, her arms grew sore, but practice helped her grow stronger and exact more joy from the sport.
Waynick and his wife, Joyce, call themselves Savannah's car handlers and have helped her cover the expenses, which have run between $10,000 and $15,000 because of car costs, parts, travel and entry fees.
Quarter midgets are different from go-karts. They are quarter-scale race cars with a tubular frame, suspension and shock absorbers. Go-karts have no suspension whatsoever, says Ray Garcia, who owns and operates the Ambassador Racing School and track with his son J.R. Quarter midgets can go more than 30 mph on the banked oval asphalt track in Wimauma that is one-ninth of a mile.
Garcia, 60, and his family, including wife Debra, have run the school and track for more than three decades. They live at the 7 ½-acre compound. Garcia says J.R., 31, grew up literally with a race track in his front yard. Waynick likes the Ambassador track because he says it is a well-run operation.
In the year-round school, novice drivers learn among other things: safety rules, engine parts and how to take an engine apart, what the racing flags mean and the setup of a car.
"They drive every day. (They) learn how to enter, exit corners and braking properly," Garcia said.
The school uses a simulator in the "Kids in Racing" summer camp to help evaluate students.
Garcia said when children start driving early, they are like sponges.
"They absorb everything. The earlier they get started, the more they learn."
Henry Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.