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NORTH KINGSTOWNâ€”For most people, finding the career thatâ€™s right for them is a task that takes a lifetime. For North Kingstown teenager Brandon Martinez, all it took was one afternoon at an automotive swap meet in Thompson, Connecticut.
He was seven years old.
â€śIâ€™ve always loved driving,â€ť Martinez said Tuesday afternoon while sitting at a pearly white kitchen table in a room that looked more like the inside of a trophy case than a part of a house. â€śIâ€™ve always loved to race and my dad used to work on cars all the time. He took me to go to a swap meet and we were walking around, seeing all these cool looking cars. I used to always go running up to them and ask about them and that kind of was what made me start getting really interested into racing.â€ť
Martinez isnâ€™t different than most teenagers his age. When he grows up, he wants to be a NASCAR driver.
Such lofty goals arenâ€™t unique. At that age, lots of similar children dream of becoming professional athletes or movie stars or astronauts.
But what makes Brandon stand out is that, unlike many of his peers, heâ€™s on a path to accomplish just that.
Martinez was recently selected to the Ron Suttonâ€™s Winnerâ€™s Circle NASCAR developmental program. After an exhaustive, nationwide search that began with 933 applicants, Martinez was selected as part of a group of 40 finalists, flown to Sacramento, California and, despite being one of the youngest attendees at the tryout, was one of only 12 drivers selected into the program.
Itâ€™s an impressive feat but one that makes sense when you look at his background.
Brandon was seven years old when he began racing Quarter Midgets, a smaller type of race car often used by children between the ages of five to 16, on the Thompson track and after getting that first win, which took all of two career races, he was hooked.
â€śMy first win, I had a lot of fun. I didnâ€™t really know where I was, all I knew was I was having a lot of fun passing a lot of cars.â€ť
Martinez spent a year developing his skills in a Novice league comprised largely of younger, first-time racers and, in his second year, moved into what his father Lou called the â€śbig leaguesâ€ť.
And though he struggled, at first, through that adjustment, Brandon was a fast learner and it wouldnâ€™t be long before he was a rising star on the track, the type of athlete who everyone in opposing cars knows to look out for.
â€śIt took him probably a couple of years,â€ť Lou Martinez said. â€śIt was a big learning curve and he was thrown to the wolves but his third, fourth and fifth seaons, he progressively got better, better and better and he had a phenomenal season last year. Now, heâ€™s one of the people to pick off. If youâ€™re going there, heâ€™s got a bulls eye on him, you want to beat him.â€ť
Brandonâ€™s career, which is really still only in its fifth year, can be seen in the vast amounts of trophies in his familyâ€™s living room. One off-white table in the center of the room sits next to the family computer and strains to contain the hardware. On top of his fridge are four gigantic trophies that look to be about his size and, he points out, if you look around the rest of the house, youâ€™ll see them everywhere.
Itâ€™s so overwhelming that his brother jokes about how many Brandon has broken just by playing around the house.
But Martinez knows that success in professional racing isnâ€™t measured by trophies alone. You have to be good, sure, but you also have to be consistent, you have to be willing to take a chance and, above all, you have to be a little lucky.
And thatâ€™s exactly what he was the night he got the call from the Ron Suttonâ€™s Winnerâ€™s Circle.
It started off as a pipe dream.
Sitting in front of their computer browsing various racing websites, Lou and Brandon came across a small blurb about a developmental program searching for unknown talent.
Lou initially brushed it aside. Itâ€™s hard to blame him. All the research showed that the odds of getting discovered were slim at best. Some years, the program had 700 people apply. Others, the numbers were as high as 1,000.
How could one little teenager with five years of experience in the smallest state in the country possibly compare to the rest of the country?
It wasnâ€™t until Lou sat down and typed out his sonâ€™s resume that he really realized how much Brandon had already accomplished.
And, like any good sports movie montage, everything came together in rapid speed from there.
First came the email reply from the program, then an email interview. After that, Brandon went through two rounds of phone interviews and, despite never in a million years thinking it would happen, found out he was selected as one of 40 people who would be flown out to California and given a shot.
Much like he did on that first day at the swap meet, Brandon entered the track in Sacramento wide eyed and unsure of what to expect and after a long day of watching others compete, he finally got his shot at 9 p.m.
Sure, he was one of the youngest people in attendance. Sure, he had never raced in a car this big. And maybe he did need a seat cushion to boost him up so he could comfortably reach the clutch.
But once he hit that track, there was no doubt about what would happen next.
Brandon not only drove that car, he drove it like a champion. He opened the eyes of everyone left in attendance, to the point where he was asked â€śHow old are you?â€ť and â€śHave you ever driven this car before?â€ť by just about everyone he came in contact with after the race.
The call that he made the cut was just further proof of his potential.
So where does Brandon go from here?
While heâ€™s very clearly still in the early stages of the developmental program, and he is currently looking for sponsors to offset the high costs involved in racingâ€”participants have to pay for entry fees, pay to have the cars transported to venues, pay for gas, pay for the crews that help put the races togetherâ€”Brandon is on a path that seems all but guaranteed to lead to greatness.
And through it all, he still manages to keep his wits about him.
When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Brandon explains his desire to one day become a NASCAR driver and drive with the best in the world. The most important thing, though? Making sure he has fun, meets new people and â€śbecomes friends, not enemiesâ€ť with those he competes with.
And while he may be running out of room to store all of his trophies, one thing is for sure, Brandon Martinez is racing towards greatness, one lap at a time.