Racing for the rush

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Racecar driver Brian Hoar likens a speedway to Shelburne Road. When it’s glare ice. Before the salt trucks come through.

“Everyone is still going 50 miles per hour and … you are doing everything you can do to keep from crashing, but go the maximum speed and beat the guy going down Shelburne Road,” Hoar said.

The 34-year-old Williston resident should know what he’s talking about; he’s been racing for 16 years. This weekend, he and other members of the Goss Dodge racing team are going to Irwindale, Calif., for the Toyota All-Star Showdown – a “for fun” race with a purse of $200,000. Average speeds for that half-mile track are roughly 90 to 100 miles per hour, Hoar said.

While driving at those speeds, he said he’s mostly thinking “don’t crash, don’t crash, don’t crash.”

But crashing is part of the sport, he said; safety improvements of cars and tracks allow drivers to walk out of even the highest speed crashes unscathed.

“Racing is a crazy sport; anything can happen,” Hoar said. “Certainly people have been killed racing over the years. Percentage wise, knock on wood, it’s a very safe sport.”

He said his wife of eight years, Sandy, doesn’t typically fear for his life, though they talk about safety. They have two girls, ages four and six, and a 19-year-old stepson. Part of Sandy’s comfort may come from her knowledge of the sport; she, too, grew up in a racing family.

While other racecar drivers make their living at the sport, Hoar races part-time. By day he is the South Burlington Goss Dodge dealership general manager, the family business.

Hoar’s early memories of racing are sitting in the Catamount Stadium in Milton as a kid, rooting for Bobby Dragon. His dad raced for a few years. Motorcycles, four-wheelers, snowmobiles and other motorized “toys” were always part of Hoar’s life growing up; a racecar was the next natural thing, he said.

It is the adrenaline to which he is addicted, he said. And the competition.

“Driving is a lot more mental than it is physical,” Hoar said, though he notes that the strain on the cardiovascular system due to stress is enormous. “You’re trying to outsmart your competitors.”

He gives as an example, a young, inexperienced driver in Hoar’s racing division that he said is “trying to prove something to the world” and doesn’t mind “driving through me to get there.”

He needs to handle him differently than this year’s division first-place finisher Mike Olsen, he said.

“He won’t try to do anything risky…and every now and then you can take advantage of that.”

Hoar racked up successes early in his career. At 21, he became the youngest champion in the history of the American Canadian Late Model Tour, according to his statistics sheet. As of 2006, Hoar held the record (26) for the most American Canadian Tour victories. He won the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road (in Barre, Vt.) in 1998 and 1999 – wins of which Hoar seems particularly proud as he points to the trophies on the wall of the race shop. Racing at Thunder Road now, Hoar said, is like “coming home.”

This year Hoar placed fourth in the Busch East Series of NASCAR’s Grand National Division, a “minor league” proving ground for higher levels of competition, the top of which is the NASCAR Nextel Cup.

A lot of time is required for Hoar’s hobby – both for him and the volunteers and two full-time employees on the team. They race about 15 weekends a year. Then there are countless hours of car repair and maintenance and car testing days.

“The performance of the car is one of the most important factors in being successful,” Hoar said.