Team Manager and Beloit Automotive...
Team Manager and Beloit Automotive Technology Instructor Pete Raskovic discusses front-end geometry with his students.
Tillman will graduate this year, and he admits that the program has helped him focus on pursuing a career in automotive technology. "I want to use this opportunity to achieve a career goal and make my life successful."
Like Hill and Tillman, 17-year-old Craig "Squirrel" Burns wasn't setting any attendance records at Beloit Memorial before entering the UFR program. And just like Hill and Tillman, that has changed. "This is keeping me in school," says Burns. "Before the program I did not like school, but now I've learned about suspension, tires, and steering. Shocks is the main thing I do."
This future shock specialist is planning on heading to Blackhawk Technical College to become a master technician after graduating from Beloit.
Spearheading Urban Force Racing is team manager Pete Raskovic. To say that he is the glue that holds the program together would be an understatement. His energy for the program and for implementing Hendricks' vision is infectious, and it has spread to the kids.
"They [Hendricks and Raskovic] are definitely the ones looking out for the students. Without them, the program never would have gotten off the ground," says Burns.
The team's driver, Midget...
The team's driver, Midget ace Michael "Slim" Pickens, shows students how he likes his safety belts adjusted.
Make no mistake: This is not a touchy-feely shop class. Raskovic demands a lot from his students, likely a lot more than most high school educators. "I push them. Last week, I pushed them real hard," says the teacher. "A lot of them came in blurry eyed because they were tired, but it's good for them."
He also uses some creative techniques to keep everyone focused on the task at hand, like the time he had to address a communication gap within the team: "I told them, 'I want you checking e-mail every day.' So for a test, I sent the team an e-mail that said, 'If you don't respond to this e-mail within 24 hours, you will be cut from the team, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.'" Not surprisingly, it worked; the communication gap closed, and everybody remained on the team.
"Pete expects us to work at our best," says student Cesar Roman. "He pushes us to learn as we go. There are going to be mistakes, but you learn from them."
Life lessons in a race shop-what better place to learn?
ARCA teams like these running...
ARCA teams like these running at Daytona earlier this year could provide advanced training for Raskovic's students. Photo by Bob Lesieur
Words like respect, hard work, and teamwork are continually heard when you ask the students what they are learning in the program. "Working with others . . . teamwork, it's been really big. Without it, it's bad," continues Roman. "You know once Pickens [Michael Pickens, the team's driver] gets on the track, if something goes wrong, we're the ones who did all the work on that car. We're responsible."
Responsibility and teamwork can be foreign concepts to at-risk youth. In the world of Urban Force Racing, these concepts are at the very center of the program. So far, it seems to be working. "There are kids with us who had 30 discipline referrals last year," explains Raskovic. "This year, zero-not a single discipline referral."
Every student in the program has made great strides since joining UFR. But there are also opportunities to move up the ladder within the program. Raskovic runs the team just like a typical race team, with leadership roles open to students who deserve them. Keenan Davidson is the youngest member of UFR, having just turned 16. He also occupies one of those leadership roles, the student crew chief. It is a job he respects and is proud of.
"I got to be the leader because of my work ethic. The hard work paid off," says Davidson proudly. "The program provides us experience while teaching us teamwork."
Pickens gets comfortable in...
Pickens gets comfortable in his student-mounted racing seat.
During his interview, Davidson hinted at some exciting plans that the team is working on for the students in the future, but he was hesitant to explain. Then Raskovic let the cat out of the bag.
"We hope to be able to get students up to the next level," he said. "We want to establish an internship program with a national touring series such as ARCA or maybe the Craftsman Truck Series."
The idea is to provide a constant source of dedicated talent to those upper series. It's an idea that benefits the students, providing them a solid future, and race teams, providing them an educated source of new blood.
The New Zealand dirt racing scene probably isn't the first place you'd think of to get a driver to wheel your ASA Late Model, but that's exactly where Raskovic ended up. Pete met 23-year-old Michael "Slim" Pickens through UFR's Public Relations Manager Steve Pados, a longtime motorsports professional from Eastern Pennsylvania. Pickens, a native Aucklander and dirt Midget specialist, was in the States pursuing an asphalt career. He had won just about everything there was to win in his native New Zealand, as well as neighboring Australia, and has set his eyes on a NASCAR career.
Although his racing stateside has been somewhat limited, he has won features at Wilmot and Angell Park in 2006, and in 2005 he won Rookie honors and finished an impressive Sixth in the Chili Bowl. He was also the lone dirt racer to make it to the finals of the much publicized Roush Racing "Gong Show."