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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The youngest race winner in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series history surprised even himself in 2011.
NASCAR rookie Garrett Denton of Hope Valley, R.I., was 14 years, five months, 10 days of age when he won his first career Mini Stock feature at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl on August 20 last year. He won his division’s Rookie of the Year Award and finished 12th in track points. With a win, two top-fives and 11 top-10s in 19 starts, he placed 65th in the NASCAR Finalist Division IV pavement standings.
“It never occurred to me that I would win a feature in my first season,” Denton said.
“I was nervous about going out on the track at Waterford the very first time because I had never driven a car before,” Denton said. “It took me a few weeks to get comfortable in a bigger car on a bigger track. It was late in the season before I figured out where the car is supposed to be on every part of a lap. When I put it all together I found my rhythm.”
Prior to the 2010 season, NASCAR implemented a Learner’s Permit License for its NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks. The license lowered the age-limit for NASCAR-sanctioned tracks’ entry-level division from 16-years-old to 14. The change was designed to provide an intermediate step for young drivers looking to make the move from non-NASCAR beginner-level racing series to running at their NASCAR home track.
Since the rule went into effect, 22 drivers under the age of 16 have visited Victory Lane at NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks.
Michael McGuire set the mark in Division I at 14 years, 11 months, 20 days with his win at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., in June last year. Michael Carter lowered the overall record to 14 years, 10 months, 24 days with his Division III win at Edmonton Raceway Park in Alberta, Canada, in July. Just over a month later, Denton broke through for his first NASCAR win.
Denton, a ninth grade honor student at Chariho High School in Richmond, R.I., is serious about his racing and he’s also serious about making a contribution to his community. He has partnered with Make-A-Wish Foundation of Massachusetts and Rhode Island to raise awareness of the organization. He also hopes to involve fans at Waterford Speedbowl to raise funds for Make-A-Wish. Fans can make a $5.00 donation to the charity to sponsor a star-shaped decal they can sign. The stars will be placed on the roof of Denton’s Mini-Stock. The driver’s goal is to cover his roof in stars and raise $500 for the foundation.
“I wanted to be part of the effort to support our Make-A-Wish Foundation and we worked with them to put together this program,” Denton said. “The challenge to fans is to be part of the team by sponsoring a star that we’ll carry on our car.”
Denton’s car sponsors include www.extremecomplex.com, Larry’s Auto Machine, Morrone’s Auto Service and The Gentleman Barber.
Denton began racing at age six in Quarter Midgets at Little T Speedway, the .05-mile banked paved oval at the larger Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway site. He won 80 features during his career along with the 2009-10 Heavy Honda Quarter Midget division at championships at Little T. While continuing his Sunday Quarter Midget career in 2010 he also shifted to his first full-size track and raced a limited schedule in the Bandolero division at Waterford on Wednesday nights.
Denton had little choice but to move up to full size race cars. He outgrew his Little T car.
“I got too big to fit into a Quarter Midget so that’s why I moved to Mini Stocks,” Denton said. “Waterford Speedbowl is the closest track to our house – about 30 minutes – so it made sense to race there.”
Denton comes from a racing family. His father Steven competed in Mini Stocks at Waterford for one season and his uncle Anthony “Tony” Franco is also a veteran of the division. Denton’s grandfather Norman Moore has also raced karts, as has his mother Melissa and her sisters Dawn Franco and Andrea Sadowski. His sister Kelsey is not a driver but is at every race with the rest of his family that includes grandfather Moore and his wife Susan and grandparents Sheryl and Earl Denton.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing. The series encompasses more than 50 speedways across the United States and Canada.
Garrett Denton moved up to the Mini Stock Division at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl last season as a 14-year-old. Keith Cyr/racedogphotography.com