AUTO RACING: Grand Forks 16-year-old makes the jump from go-karts to sprints
At age 16, Jade Hastings already knows what he wants to do with his life.
And he’s known that since the first time the Grand Forks Central junior went to River Cities Speedway as a youngster.
“I got a Mark Dobmeier T-shirt the first night I went,” he said.
That was roughly a decade ago.
A lot has happened in his life since his first trip to RCS. A change in career plans, however, hasn’t changed. Not one bit.
His mother, Terri, and father, Joel, both have died since Hastings’ first night at the track. But his passion for racing has grown stronger every year. Backed by an incredibly strong support system of friends and family, Hastings finally is racing a sprint car — fulfilling his lifelong dream.
Hastings is driving the No. 8 sprint car at RCS and on the NOSA circuit this season, making the jump from go-karts to sprints in a year.
That kind of racing jump has been made before, but it’s not common — going from racing go-karts at the eighth-mile track on the county fairgrounds to reaching speeds of 100 mph or more next door at RCS.
“It’s such a thrill,” Hastings said. “Every time you get in the car and pull the belts tight, the adrenaline gets going. There is no other feeling like it.
“And this is something my mom always wanted me to do. When she passed I was 6 years old.”
So, this summer, with the backing and support of car owners John Tibiatowski and Steve LaMoine, Hastings is racing whenever he can and trying to handle a steep learning curve in the process.
He races for a simple reason.
“I like to win; that’s about it,” said Hastings. “And I’ve been talking about doing this since I was 10 years old.”
Filling the void
Hastings and Tibiatowski have been involved in racing since Jade was 7 years old. Tibiatowski dated Jade’s mom before she died but the bond between the two remained strong.
“By 15, he had lost both parents; we’re trying to step in and do the best we can for him,” said Tibiatowski. “Jade took a real interest in racing when he was really young. When he went to the races, he didn’t watch them like most kids. He’s always wanted to race.
Racing, in many respects, also has helped fill the void of having no parents, Hastings said. It’s a release of sorts.
“It’s a way to get away,” Hastings said. “You get in the car and you don’t think of anything else; you just think about competing and going out there and winning. It really helps. And I love it.
“And I have so many people behind me who help me. We’re really a family.”
On a recent night at the shop, Hastings, Tibiatowski and Jeff Leebrick, who has wrenched on sprint cars for decades, were putting the finishing touches on the car in anticipation of another night at the track.
Hastings made some early waves a few weeks ago when he won a heat race on a fast racing surface at RCS.
He led from start to finish in the 10-lap heat, topping out at 101.232 mph. The field included two of the top drivers at RCS, Wade Nygaard and Casey Mack.
Although he’s in his first year of racing sprints, Hastings said nerves haven’t been a big problem.
“I was a little nervous the first time because I was lined up with some of the big boys,” he said. “Other than that, I was ready to go. The first night really wasn’t so bad. The worst part of racing is when you’re in the car and your mind is going crazy. Do I run the high side? The low side? Is the car set up right? Is the track dry? Is it tacky?
There are more nerves in the stands.
His grandmother, Ritz Ozbun, attends all of her grandson’s races. Jade also lives with his grandma.
“It’s real exciting to watch him race but my heart is in my throat every time I watch,” said grandma. “But racing has been a dream of his since he was three years old.
“He’s an incredible kid. He matured at a young age and I think racing has helped him through everything.”
The big night
Last week, the World of Outlaws raced at RCS.
Hastings couldn’t wait for the night. The day of the race, Sammy Swindell — one of the all-time greats on the WoO circuit — stopped to eat at a Grand Forks fast food restaurant where Hastings works.
“I told him I was going to race with the Outlaws that night,” said Hastings. “He just kind of smiled and nodded at me.”
Hastings did race with the Outlaws later in the day, but the night was cut short when his No. 8 sprint tagged the front-straightaway wall as the green flag fell in a heat race.
“I was trying to put myself in the show (feature),” he said. “I ran out of room and put myself in the wall. That’s racing.”
But he has a handful of features and has competed well, considering it’s his first year racing against a number of drivers with years of experience.
And the learning curve at RCS perhaps is tougher than most tracks because of the track’s small size and quirks.
His plans this season is to continue racing weekly at RCS and hit as many NOSA shows in the area as possible.
Still in high school, Hastings sees no reason to stop dreaming about a career in racing.
“I want to go as far as I can,” he said. “If NASCAR is an option, then I want to race NASCAR. I told my guys that I’m not stopping until I fulfill my dreams.”
Vacation this summer will include a trip to the Knoxville Nationals — the Super Bowl of sprint racing — in August. He’ll just watch this season, hoping to compete against the top drivers in the country some day.
“It’s the best vacation there is; camping and watching sprint racing.”
If his first few races are any indication, Hastings won’t tip-toe into sprint racing.
He’s already raced the top side of the RCS track, an area that can be dangerous. The top side is the fastest way around the quarter-mile bullring but it also can be hazardous if a driver misjudges the cushion.
“I was on the high side of the track my first night,” he said. “It’s something I wanted to do.”
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, Hastings said he has no regrets.
He credits his mom for living out his dream.
“She was one of the main reasons I am where I am,” he said. “She wanted me to race. She knew I loved it when I was a little kid.
“She told John, ‘You better make sure this boy races.’ I’m really happy it happened.”