SPRING HILL —
Being a high school student is a hard enough full-time job.
Try balancing school, work and a professional racing career. That's what Chris Friel, an 18-year-old graduate from Nature Coast Technical High School, is doing. Friel has maintained good grades, knowing that his parents always wanted him to get a high school diploma.
"It was always hard to balance school and racing," Friel said. "But I knew when I was in school, I couldn't play around. I was there to get my diploma and that's what I did."
Chris' dad, James Friel, who is a retired Pasco County Sheriff's deputy, said that all the travel involved with the International Motor Sports Associations and the American Le Mans/IMSA-Lites series takes the Friel family to various locations, from California to Connecticut. That tends to make Chris' studies very stressful.
How can an 18-year-old kid have the passion and the mindset to commit to racing? Well, in Chris' world, the answer is simple.
"My grandparents," Chris said. "At age 12, I was blessed enough to receive a go-cart as a Christmas present. Every professional racer knows that you start in go-carts and work your way up."
This present may have been the spark that ignited his mad sprint to the top, but his dad thinks there might just be more to the passion than meets the eye.
"The present was great," James said. "Chris beamed from ear to ear when he saw it, and he couldn't believe it. The other presents that came with it were a suit and a helmet. He put those on and you could not get him out of them.
"I always enjoyed sports cars and foreign cars and always enjoyed going to the races and watching people restore old cars, but I never was involved in racing at all. Chris got the bug more than anything else — probably when he was very young. A friend of his got him involved in BMX racing bicycles and he wanted to move him and Chris into motocross. We said no way, and we are glad we did."
Bug or no bug, Chris has put a lot of hard work and dedication into his racing. He is unconditional in his methods though.
"It's not like baseball or football where you practice what you do to get better," Chris said. "Yeah, I drive to collect data from the cars and tracks but I do a lot of conditioning as well. I hit the gym, where I run and lift to stay in shape. Driving is not as easy as it looks."
For now, Chris wants to get a full sponsorship to compete and earn a spot as a full-time professional. His primary sponsor now is Race Kids, a group which assists in raising money, takes some of their profits and donate some more to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital.
Chris hopes to lock up another permanent sponsor to help pay for travel and expenses. Chris and James agree Chris' future is very bright and to succeed, all he needs is the chance.
"This is a dream come true for Chris," James said, "and with sponsorship support, it would place him as one of the first young drivers from the Tampa Bay area to progress from carting to an international road racing series."
Chris does not have the fortune of having sponsor opportunities offered to fellow professional drivers or established business partnerships involved in racing. He is doing it all on his own, through determination, dedication, and hard work.
"I know I can race," Chris said. "It's what I do. I'm blessed with family and friends who support me, and without them I don't know where I'd be. I'm glad to have gotten this far and I know I can make an impact at the next level. All I need is one shot."
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