Editor’s Note: Jonathan Shafer is a 15-year-old driver from Ashland, Ohio, currently in his second part-time season competing for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports as part of the Toyota Racing Development pipeline. Sprint Car & Midget will be following Shafer’s performance throughout the second half of USAC Indiana Midget Week as he wheels the No. 67k Bullet-Toyota.
Below is his introduction and preview of his USAC Indiana Midget Week debut at Circle City Raceway.
INDIANAPOLIS – Hey guys, it’s been a while since I’ve filed an entry in this series and I’m glad to be able to bring it back, at least for a week or so. If you don’t know me, my name is Jonathan Shafer.
To start off, I’m about a week away from turning 16 and I’m really looking forward to be able to tell my story to the Sprint Car & Midget fan base during Indiana Midget Week.
I’ve been waiting for an entire year to run some of these races. The way my birthday fell last season, it was one day too late for me to be able to compete in the entire week out there with USAC. That was a bummer, for sure, but we got through it and now we’re up here to make things happen this time!
I grew up watching my dad (Todd Shafer) race late models, (NASCAR) Trucks and Nationwide cars, what’s now the Xfinity Series. So we’ve been around racing a long time and it’s really all that I’ve ever known.
I’m from Ashland, Ohio, about an hour north of Columbus. It’s interesting looking at the racing ties near me, though, because if you go through the cornfield near our house, it’s almost right where Tim Richmond grew up. That’s something that’s just really cool about our little town racing-wise.
At five years old, I got my first quarter midget, and I was hooked pretty quickly after that. We raced that for a while and got a lot of wins, and won a lot of championships along the way as well. When I turned 12, I got into a JEGS/CRA late model on the pavement, and that was that first major step up for us.
My dad knows a lot about late models, obviously, because he used to do a lot of late model racing when he was younger, so it made sense for us to go in that direction and at least see what I could do. From there, we also ran some outlaw kart stuff at Milbridge (Speedway in Salisbury, N.C.) to get me some dirt experience, while also doing the late model stuff as well.
We did all of that for about two years, and then when I turned 14, we moved up to micro sprints and running a stock late model to try and keep moving up that ladder. And from there I got into running the CARS Tour on asphalt, while the micro helped me advance over to the midget side on dirt.
It’s been since last year that I raced a midget; I hate that it has been so long, but schedule conflicts and late model commitments made finding the right opportunities a little tougher than we hoped. We would have liked to have run all of Indiana Midget Week, but I had a CARS Tour late model race last weekend which meant that we could only come in for these next four nights.
To say that I’m excited to get going is an understatement. I’ve been waiting a while just to get in the midget. I’m ready to get back in, and it feels like I haven’t been on the dirt in forever.
I really feel like I was actually just getting started to get used to the midget and how the car works and handles from track to track every week. I don’t think picking that feel back up will be too difficult, so I think we’ll have a chance to be pretty good.
As a rookie to Indiana Midget Week, I’ve never been to any of the tracks we’re going to see this week – Circle City, Lincoln Park, Gas City or Kokomo, which means I’m going to have to do a lot of learning on the fly. I know that the team has a lot of notes to go off of, though, so they’ll be able to give me a strong car that I can drive well. The only thing I want to keep in mind is that the throttle will help the car turn.
My main goal going into this week is definitely just to make the show each night. That’s the only thing we have on the checklist right now. If we come in and end up doing better, I’ll set further goals from then on out, but getting into the features and making as many laps as I can is what I know I need to do. The good news is that Circle City is a track no one has been to until this week, so hopefully that makes the playing field a little more even for us Wednesday night.
I can’t say thank you enough to Keith Kunz, Pete Willoughby, Jack Irving, Tyler Gibbs, KKM’s driver coach Jay Drake and everyone with KKM, TRD and all their partners who believed in me and helped give me this opportunity to come back to the dirt and, hopefully, be able to make another step in my career.
Thank you to everyone reading and I hope all of you will keep following our journey this week here on Sprint Car & Midget. I hope to see you at the race track soon!