The race track may as well be a second home for 29-year-old Zack Riddle.
The native of Brooklyn, Wisconsin, has been involved in racing for most of his life. Not only has he been racing since he was 10 years old, but racing also runs in his family.
His grandfather, John Ziegler, and his uncle, Jared Ziegler, are both former racers. They each won track championships at Madison International Speedway in Oregon, Wisconsin, the same race track where Riddle races every Friday night in the NASCAR Late Model division. His grandfather is even a part of Madison International Speedway’s Hall of Fame.
“I started out when I was about 10 years old and just kind of got hooked instantly,” said Riddle, who began his career by racing go karts. “We had success in the go karts and ended up racing at a National level around the country. When I was about 16 the family kind of put together a late model. We just kind of bounced around for a couple seasons and decided that this was what we wanted to do, so we started taking it a little more serious.”
That seriousness led to Riddle joining his grandfather and uncle as a track champion at Madison during the 2015 season, the first year NASCAR sanctioned the Wisconsin half-mile. By doing so, Riddle became the first third generation driver ever to win a championship at Madison International Speedway.
“It was Madison’s first year being a NASCAR sanctioned track. I knew nothing about it and didn’t really think anything of it until halfway through the season when it looked like we were in the running for it (the track title),” Riddle admitted. “It was really cool. I think it was a new tire combination for us that year too and we were the first ones to get a good setup in it and just started consistently banging out some races. We missed one top-three, but besides that it was really strong. Then after the season was over we got to do the NASCAR banquet in Charlotte. That was really impressive to see.”
RACING REFERENCE – NASCAR WHELEN ALL-AMERICAN SERIES NATIONAL STANDINGS:
What Riddle didn’t realize at the time was that things were about to change. His father, Steve, had decided he wanted to take a step back. There was no ill will between father and son, with Riddle saying his father had simply decided it was time to be less involved.
With his father taking a step back, Riddle also decided that perhaps it was time for him to also step away from racing. After all, it had always been the two of them working side-by-side at and away from the race track.
“My dad, he called and said as far as being involved in the pits and all that at the races, he kind of said that was enough for him,” Riddle said. “My first reaction was, well, if dad says that’s it, then that’s it.”
What Riddle didn’t anticipate was the reaction from his grandfather, John, and his uncle, Jared, when he told them he was going to hang up his helmet.
“So I kind of told my Grandpa John and my Uncle Jared and everyone and they were all there saying, ‘Well, we’re going to be really bored on the weekends. So we better get a car together,’ ” Riddle said.
Riddle, who spends the week working as a crane operator at his family’s Ziegler Crane business, said he had to start almost from scratch. He had a chassis, but most of the tools and parts belonged to his father.
“We had to set up a garage over at my place,” Riddle said. “We had to get a trailer, hauler, I didn’t have a motor at the time, I didn’t have tools. I’ve been kind of building.”
So for two seasons Riddle worked, with the support of his grandfather, uncle and the rest of his family, to build his program. Slowly he acquired everything – an engine, the tools, the parts – all the things he needed to be ready to go racing each week.
Finally, two years later, Riddle says his little family team is where it needs to be to compete for a championship again at Madison International Speedway
“The last two seasons we’ve been kind of rebuilding coming off of that season. I think we’re banging on all eight cylinders now,” said Riddle, who thanked Pathfinder Chassis and Wegner Automotive for helping him build his program. “This season I think is the first season I’ve felt comfortable as far as equipment. We have what it takes to get back to where we were.”
Riddle says that being a third-generation racer isn’t something he thinks about in the race car, but out of the car it can lead to some fun and unique stories from fans and competitors alike.
“On the track, obviously all of them will tell you that you don’t think one thing about it,” Riddle said about being a third-generation racer. “You’re just there to win the race. Away from the track and a lot times after the race the coolest part is to be able to hear the stories about Grandpa and stuff like that. Just when you think you’ve heard them all you I always have a big fan of his come up and tell me a new one.
“It’s a good gateway to get in with some of the veteran drivers. When you’re new to the sport when I was a lot of times it’s hard to break the ice between you and another driver. I was fortunate to have my grandfather and my uncle kind of do that for me and it kind of gets you pointed in the right direction a little quicker.”
This year Riddle says he hasn’t gotten off to the fastest of starts. He’s currently winless, though he has a pair of top-five finishes. He said there isn’t one thing that he could single out that he’s struggling with, it’s more of a combination of things that has kept him from contending for wins.
“We’ve just kind of been struggling a little bit. When the green flag drops we kind of get stuck behind the wrong car. We haven’t had a caution in two and a half of the three weeks there,” Riddle said. “You fall back to that 12th or 10th place and it’s hard to make all that up under green.
“As far as what the car is doing, I’m comfortable there. We’ve been staying out of trouble, so that’s good. We’ve just kind of been waiting for. I’m not going to say break. Maybe a little bit more speed and maybe not stuff to go our way, just stuff not to go against our way.”
Regardless of where he finishes, Riddle says being at the race track is always a good thing. It makes him smile, but perhaps more importantly, it keeps smiles on the faces of his grandfather and uncle.
“I couldn’t do it without them,” Riddle said. “I do it just as much to see the smile on their faces as I do to have fun myself. If I felt like they weren’t having fun then it would be hard to keep going back every week. I’m really glad to see the smiles on their faces.”
NATIONAL POINTS UPDATES
Philip Morris came up short in the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson South Boston 200 Saturday night, but it still paid off.
Morris finished second to defending track champion Peyton Sellers in the Late Model Stock Car race at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway. It was just the sixth event all year that Morris didn’t win.
But the four-time national champion was able to push his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I leading points total to 600.
The Ruckersville, Virginia, driver has 15 wins at Dominion, North Carolina’s Southern National Raceway Park, as well as Virginia’s Langley Speedway and South Boston. The only track he’s raced at and not won this year is South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway. Morris has 18 top fives and 19 top 10s in 21 starts.
He leads the South Boston points by 30 over Sellers.
SHORT TRACK SCENE: The King came at The Champ and he missed.
– Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) July 1, 2018
I told Philip Morris, “that’s as close as you can get to racing someone hard without wiping them out.” Did he leave anything on the table?
The King of the Late Model Stocks finished second in the South Boston 200. pic.twitter.com/3IS7xgCY9w
– Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) July 1, 2018
Burt Myers finished sixth in the first 25-lap feature at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but bounced back to win the second feature of the Brad’s Golf Cars Modified Series. The pair of finishes allowed the eight-time track champion to increase his points total to 466. Myers has five wins, 13 top fives and 15 top 10s in 16 starts at “The Madhouse.”
Keith Rocco remains third with 444 points on the strength of seven wins, 10 top fives and 13 top 10s in 13 starts in the SK Modified Division at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway and the Sunoco Modified Division at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Bowman Gray drivers Jonathan Brown (fourth), Jason Myers (fifth), Tim Brown (sixth) and Lee Jeffreys (10th) occupy top 10 spots.
California teen Jagger Jones came east and picked up a big win. Jones, who has 18 starts at his home tracks of Kern County Raceway Park and Irwindale Speedway, raced twin features at Myrtle Beach. After finishing 20th in the first race, he started 17th and drove to the win in the second feature.
THE FOURTH TURN: Sam Yarbrough, Jagger Jones Win Twin Races At Myrtle Beach Speedway
Ronnie Williams,who runs in the weekly Modified divisions at Stafford, Thompson and New York’s Riverhead Raceway, is eighth, while Lawless Alan is ninth racing at Kern and Irwindale. Jones leads the Late Model Division at Kern County, while Alan is on top of the LKQ Pick Your Part Late Models division at Irwindale.