Urban Force Crew Chief Danny Brown (left) talks with Raymond Fallin.
While Pickens does not have a lot of asphalt experience, nobody sees that as a detriment, least of all Raskovic. "I think that a dirt driver brings an added skill set to racing," says Raskovic. "During the Roush test, Carl Edwards said that Pickens had the best lines of any of the drivers, and that was his first time ever on asphalt."
Pickens is excited about the opportunity to race the ABC Supply/ Urban Force Racing Fusion, but not just for the chance to race on pavement in the U.S. "Having the opportunity to work with children and to teach them about this sport is so important for everyone's success. We cannot race successfully without that added interest from today's youth as racing fans," says the Kiwi.
Pickens will run the entire 2007 ASA Midwest Series schedule behind the wheel of the ABC Supply Fusion of Urban Force Racing.
Raskovic is not the Lone Ranger in this racing program. He has a number of veteran racers and first-class mechanics on his side, starting with Danny Brown, the Urban Force Racing crew chief. Brown has built an impressive rsum working with Indy Car teams and Barber Racing Series teams. Urban Force also has its own chassis specialist, Steve Bruno, who comes to the team with more than 30 years of expertise in suspension and alignment setup. Rounding out the adult side of UFR is mechanic/crewman Greg Bowles, an ASE Certified Master Auto-Diesel technician with over 28 years of industry experience. Greg will be in charge of the team's transmission and gearing program. An interesting side note is that Bowles holds a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and has worked with youth for over 23 years as a martial arts instructor.
The 2007 Urban Force Racing Team. Kneeling from left to right: Raymond Fallin, Keenan Davi
Beyond the nucleus of the team itself, the biggest fan of the whole program could very well be Beloit Memorial's principal, Carlton D. Jenkins. Jenkins started teaching at Beloit back in the late '80s but subsequently left and was gone for eight years. When he returned to Wisconsin, he came from Ohio, a state with numerous cutting-edge technical education programs. So when he first met with Hendricks and Raskovic about Urban Force Racing, he was instantly sold.
"Right off the bat, I knew this was a major opportunity that you don't normally have in this part of Wisconsin," said Jenkins. "To have the potential to race, I was really excited about it. The students get to apply what they are learning in the classroom to a real-world situation. Our students need something non-traditional that can catch their attention and make learning relevant. This program gives them just that."
Urban Force's success in the classroom has actually extended beyond the eight students in the current class. "It has generated a lot of pride in students who aren't even involved in it," explained Jenkins. "I've seen a lot more pride and a lot more discipline throughout the whole school. It has had a totally positive influence."
That's impressive. And Jenkins, Raskovic, and the rest of the administration got a first-hand look at the depth of Urban Force Racing's reach when they pulled the car onto the front lawn of the school. "You should have seen the number of students who came out," Jenkins exclaims proudly.
The success of the program has led the school to commit to a pair of prep classes for next year. The classes will essentially be introductory classes to the UFR program, accomplishing a couple of objectives. First, it will keep the interest level high for the 21 students currently on the UFR waiting list. Second, it prepares the kids to enter the program so they can hit the ground running, which should elevate their performance level both in the shop and on the track.
"We're not just doing it, we are trying to be competitive as well," says Jenkins, who is personally chartering three buses to take students to the team's first race.
The Urban Force Racing program is really designed to keep the kids in school and focused on studying while using racing as the magnet. Although this is only the first year of the program, and they have yet to race the car, there are plans to expand the program both at Beloit and in other area schools. The ultimate hope is to have programs such as UFR at schools throughout the country.
"They [Raskovic and his assistants] are going to present a quality program that hopefully other districts can learn from," says Jenkins.
All of this started because of a billionaire dedicated to giving back. "Urban Force Racing is one of the most innovative ideas ever created in this sport, and this is what Ken dreams about day in and day out, helping the kids," Raskovic says.
If you called Hendricks a visionary, you wouldn't be far off. When asked where he sees the UFR program going in the future, he was quick to answer. "Schools [today] need to be teaching our children valuable skills for a career working in factories, trades, etc." Hendricks sees racing as the perfect vehicle to teach many of those skills, and UFR is the model to build upon. "Think of the thousands of dollars they spend on football and basketball. In the future, I can see high schools having a race team and racing against each other at their local Saturday night track."
And what better way to get kids back into racing?