CAMERON PARK — With the local racing season upon us, Cameron Park’s Cody Spencer is like many drivers — busy each and every day getting prepared for his effort towards a title run at Placerville Speedway. For Spencer, the title won’t only be solely the championship, the 18 year-old hopes to earn the coveted Rookie of the Year title as well.
This will mark Spencer’s first full season behind the wheel of a full-sized sprint car. The Ponderosa High senior made his debut at Placerville Speedway last year but only ran a limited number of races due to family commitments and limited sponsorships. This year, he’s ready to give it everything he has in hopes of bringing the rookie title back home to El Dorado County.
“Last year was kind of bittersweet for me,” Spencer said. “I ran a limited schedule to get some laps in the car so I could go all out this year with high hopes of grabbing the Rookie of the Year and possibly even a track championship. I’m very confident in our team this year and I know we can get the job done. We have great support behind us.”
Spencer’s race team is made up of family members. He has one advantage that some lack in a family-owned team: his crew chief is his father, Rick, who has a great deal of experience on the mechanical side of racing. Rick has been wrenching on sprint cars for decades and has been a mechanic for world champion sprint car driver Donnie Shatz as well as successful NASCAR Team owner and multiple champion Bill McAnally.
Spending many years on the road with such professional teams, Rick gained the knowledge he uses today to assist and mentor Cody as he follows his dream. Cody is also assisted by family friend Paul Vandenberg who has a vested interest in the orange and white No. 34 sprint car and is a vital member of the crew. Vandenberg is a former kart racer and crew member who spent five years competing in New Zealand before joining the team two years ago.
“Our racing team is a whole family affair. I couldn’t take these steps to accomplish my dreams without my family, especially my parents,” Cody said. “My Dad has been wrenching on sprint cars since he was 14 and really knows how to set up a car. I’ve learned almost everything I know from him. My mom is a huge supporter. She is there every race and cheers me on and I truly love her for that.”
Cody first noticed his love of speed and competition when he was just seven years old when he’d watch the races where his father worked as a crew chief. For Cody, the interest went deeper than watching fast cars do thrills and spills. Following each race he would frequently walk around the track, looking for stray parts left from mishaps during the night. Cody would inspect the parts, often asking his father numerous questions about them, what their purpose was and why they may have failed the driver. In racing, a driver that knows the working of their car is well-suited and confident during competition.
“I remember dreaming about racing one day,” Cody said. “When I got to meet the drivers after the races I thought they were rock stars. Drivers like Andy Forsberg and CJ Humphreys were basically my racing heroes. I remember coming up to them years ago telling them that I was going to be just like them one day, and here I am racing wheel-to-wheel with some of the best in the business.”
When he was 10, Cody began racing Outlaw Karts. In his very first season behind the wheel he posted numerous top five finishes and even earned a second-place in one event, a real accomplishment in a youngster’s debut year. The following year he advanced to the larger Micro Sprint Class where he earned second and third place finishes. One year later he earned his first victory and finished in the top five in more than half of the season events.
After attending the well-known Cory Kruseman’s Driving School, Cody advanced once again in 2009. He began racing with a group known as the Capital City Midgets, a traveling campaign that races at seven different race tracks. In his first season he earned his first victory and placed 5th in the overall standings despite missing a number of events.
After working his way up the competitive ladder, Cody is ready to compete with some of California’s best drivers in the weekly championship series at Placerville Speedway. His team has acquired added equipment and sponsorship for the year and they are still seeking additional sponsorship to help fund their effort in a sport where even a minor collision can cost thousands to repair.
As a Bruin senior involved in many school activities, including four years of Bruin football, Cody is expected to have a strong fan following has he pursues the much respected rookie title and makes a run at the track title. Cody will go up against veteran drivers including those childhood heroes like Forsberg and Humphreys along with Sean Becker, Andy Gregg, Scott Russell, James Sweeney and more in his pursuit. Cody knows what he is up against and looks to learn from the best of the west.
“I plan on bringing my A-game every week and never rest a minute. I eat, sleep and breath racing all year long. I want to be smooth, fast and do everything to perfection. Being able to capture the Rookie of the Year would be amazing and nothing would feel better than winning a track championship at my local track with the support of all my friends and family.”
While his current goals are locally bases, Cody hopes a successful stint at Placerville Speedway will one day lead to racing professionally.
“I would love to be a World of Outlaws driver one day. Traveling around the country and racing almost every night of the week for a living, that sounds like the life to me.”
With youth on his side, determination and talent combined with knowledge, Cody’s dream of one day advancing from the likes of Placerville Speedway’s red clay are not unrealistic. Placerville Speedway has been a training ground for several of today’s top national drivers including Elk Grove’s Kyle Larson and Brad Sweet of Grass Valley who now race with the NASCAR Nationwide Series as well as select events with the World of Outlaws, the United States Auto Club (USAC) and more.
Cody will be joined by some of Northern California’s best drivers this Saturday as Placerville Speedway waves the green flag on the highly anticipated racing season at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds. For further information visit the track website at placervillespeedway.com.