When summer finally arrives here in northern New England, the thoughts of most teenage males turn to having fun with their friends, part-time jobs and enjoying the great outdoors with family.
For 15-year-old Gabe Brown, however, summer’s arrival means stock car racing. Lots of it, actually.
The Center Conway, N.H., native is running his first full season at Oxford in the Super Late Model division in 2018. He’s also competing in select Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North races to prepare for the Oxford 250 in late August.
After turning heads in 2017 with several strong runs at Oxford, Brown is currently leading the championship point standings with a pair of runner-up finishes and two fourth-place runs to his credit in six starts.
It’s obvious a win is just around the corner, and it’s also clear this young man has an abundance of natural talent behind the wheel.
“We’ve got things going pretty good right now,” Brown said. “We were going to tear the car all apart last winter and change a lot of things, but we decided to leave it alone. It fired off strong and has run as fast as it did for us last year, and doesn’t fall off much during a race. I’m glad we left it alone.”
When it was first announced back in April the team would field two cars this season and embark on such a busy schedule, some wondered if it may be too much at once. As of early June, the decision has proven to be a wise one.
“The weekly program is going smoothly, so it doesn’t interfere with our PASS races,” Brown said. “We went to Thunder Road (Barre, VT) with the PASS car and were running fourth the whole race until I put it into the wall. It wasn’t the car’s fault, it was just a learning experience for me at a fun but very challenging track.”
Brown is a protege of 1994 NASCAR Busch North Series champion and respected chassis builder Dale Shaw. As a neighbor of the racing legend, Brown got exposed early on.
“I started hanging around Dale’s shop after school when I was 10 years old,” Brown said. “One day Dale told me he had a Kart I could drive, but I had to build it myself. I assembled it with his guidance, and ended up winning my second time out. I drove a Kart for Dale the next three years.”
For most short track veterans, the road to any track’s premier class travels through the Street Stock, Super Street and Late Models divisions. Yet for Brown, the step up to Super Late Models happened a little more quickly.
“One day Dale told me he found a used Super Late Model chassis,” Brown said. “He said if I could convince my father to buy it, he’d help us bring it up to date and guide us in the learning process.
“After my father purchased it,” he said, “we rebuilt it completely and ran it part-time last year to get our feet wet. Now here we are leading the points in 2018 after six races. This is huge for our race team. It’s been such an amazing start to our season.”
Shaw enjoys working with Brown, and says he recognized his natural ability and driving potential at an early age.
“Gabe is an amazing young man,” Shaw said while taking a break in his busy chassis shop. “His dedication to racing is why I like helping him and his father. He works on the cars all the time, and can drive like a veteran.”
Shaw says Brown listens well and absorbs knowledge like a sponge.
“He’s earned the opportunities in front of him, and makes the most of them,” Shaw said. “I like to make a difference with young racers; helping Gabe allows me to do that, like I did with my son.
“In fact, I think Gabe’s driving style is a lot like DJ’s,” Shaw said. “He’s still learning but sure has figured out how to get around Oxford. I’m impressed with his recent three-wide move coming through traffic. If he’s not the most talented young driver in Maine, it’s only because he’s from New Hampshire.”
One of the more remarkable facts in Brown’s story is that he drives for a family-owned, family-supported race team. There is no sugar daddy car owner, no ‘just show up and drive’ deal with this outfit.
“I love our family-run team,” Brown said. “I don’t mind the mechanical work. It makes running up front rewarding. I’m at the shop daily to do whatever needs to be done for weekly servicing. There’s always work to do in the race shop.”
The Brown team and most of it’s supporters are either family or valued friends.
“My father, Gene, is the car owner and makes this possible for me,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t be doing this without his hard work and support. I do most of the maintenance to the car during the week, then he goes over it all to be sure we’re ready for race day. Without my father and the Shaw family, I couldn’t do this.
“I also have my brother, Gavin, helping us out, and veteran racer Bryan Kruzek has been helping us on the PASS car. His experience with Dale’s cars is helpful, he knows what we need for tire stagger and chassis setup. I appreciate his time,” Brown said.
Along with a dedicated crew and talented driver, every race team needs adequate funding to be competitive. Brown is fortunate to have several partners on board.
“We have an amazing group of businesses supporting our team,” Brown said. “We have North Country Incinerator Service on the hood; E & R Excavation on the rear fenders, which is owned by my uncle Eddie, and North Conway Disposal on the rear bumper.
“We also have Little Hands, Big Dreams Child Care Center on the rear deck lid, which is my cousin’s daycare service,” he said. “I truly appreciate each one of them.”
When all is said and done in 2018 and the final checkered flags have waved at Oxford and in PASS North, Brown and his family-run squad will reflect on their busy season on the ovals.
“It will have been a good year for us if we stayed consistent all season in the weekly program and had a better 250 weekend than we did in 2017,” Brown concluded. “I’m not as anxious for that first win as I am to have a strong 250.
“We’re working hard to stay competitive each week, and I’m very happy with our results to this point.”
Current Super Late Model points leader Gabe Brown powers off Turn 4 at Oxford Plains Speedway on May 6. The 15-year-old driver from Center Conway, N.H., has been fast in his first season of full-time competition.