As all of these aspiring young drivers bursting onto the local short track scene are quickly learning, it takes a whole lot more than just raw talent and desire to find success on the oval.

Along with that natural talent behind the wheel, it takes good equipment and experienced coaches to assist in that often-steep learning curve. Count 22-year-old-Scarborough native Alex Lacognata as one of those who has all the right ingredients to strike gold.

Lacognata, now in his seventh season behind the wheel, competes in the highly-competitive Sport Series at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. Thus far in 2018, he’s recorded six top-five and seven top-10 finishes in eight starts — a strong start by any standard.

“I have a lot of great help behind me, for one thing,” Lacognata said. “I have Mark and Ali Pennell, who own the car. I also have Robbie Harrison working with me, and I try to do my part behind the wheel. We don’t have a win, but we’re close.”

When the green flag drops on any given Sport Series feature, veterans like Clyde Hennessey, Frank Wear and Joe Pastore get serious. Each one knows every inch of that famed racing surface, yet the young Lacognata isn’t at all intimidated.

“Those guys have been around for a long time,” he added. “I think a couple of them were racing before I was even born. I just get up on the wheel and try to run with them. I learn a lot from those veterans, and earning their respect means a lot to me. Racing against them forces me to be a better driver.”

Lacognata is a graduate of the Thursday Thunder series at Beech Ridge. He started building his first car at age 15 before making his debut in the Mad Bomber JV division. In 2017, he earned Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the Sport Series.

“The Thursday Thunder program is an excellent place to start racing and learn the ropes,” Lacognata said. “I picked up a ton of knowledge there and it helped propel me on to other opportunities. I’d recommend it for anybody looking to go racing.”

Along with seeking points and a win during his sophomore season in the Sport Series, Lacognata has also had a big opportunity present itself from a legend in the sport. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he knew it.

“I had the chance to drive a Super Late Model owned by Hall of Famer Mike Rowe,” Lacognata explained. “The biggest gain was just working with Mike. He’s amazing and can teach me so many things. If he wants me to run it a couple more times, I’ll give it my all. I absolutely loved driving for him.”

On June 30, he drove Rowe’s No. 24 to a 15th-place finish in the 125-lap contest at Beech Ridge. He also wheeled it to a 17th-place finish at Oxford Plains Speedway on August 4. Super Late Model racing is a big challenge for any young newcomer.

“I was hoping for a little better performance, in all honesty,” he added. “But it’s hard jumping up like that from the Sport Series. Super Late Models are the cream of the crop, and I absolutely love them, but they take big skills to run.” 

Rowe has grown fond of the young driver this year and recognizes his potential. 

“Alex is a pretty smart young racer,” Rowe said. “He learned a lot in school and works on his own equipment. He’s worked on my car and I let him drive it twice. He has the talent and mechanical knowledge it takes to be a successful driver.”  

In January of 2015, Lacognata started attending the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) to study high performance automotive engineering. He graduated last December, and says he wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.

“It is an amazing school with so much available for those who really want to learn,” he explained. “They have their own dirt car team and I got to be a crew chief for them. I made some great friends and learned about other types of cars.

“I brought a lot of knowledge back home that I could apply to the asphalt racing we do up here. I was fortunate to study out there and enjoyed it a great deal.”

As is the case with any young driver starting to make a name for himself, Lacognata has several smart folks working hard behind the scenes to ensure his success.

“First and foremost I have to thank Mark and Ali for letting me drive this car,” Lacognata said. “We got together a couple years ago and have an arrangement that works well for us. I also really have to thank Robbie for his help, he lets me keep the car at his shop. His entire family has been very helpful.”

Along with skilled veterans like Harrison and a dedicated crew, Lacognata also has a fine group of marketing partners who make it possible for him to race.

“I’m fortunate to have a great group of partners on board,” Lacognata said. “We have Pierson Heating & Cooling, Caruso-Fowler Racing, KVM Construction, Portland Motor Sales, Nadeau’s Deli & Variety, The Turf Doctor Lawn & Pest Services, Traffic Jam Mobile Electronics, Sun Stoppers Window Tinting, Mike Rowe & Sons Trucking, Craig Equipment Corp., ASM Graphics and G.C. Libby. I appreciate the help they all provide and couldn’t do this without them.”

As the 2018 season starts to wind down, Lacognata has one specific goal he’d like to knock off.

“Ever since I was a young boy in the stands, I’ve wanted to win a feature on Saturday night at Beech Ridge,” Lacognata explained. “If I could just bag that first Sport Series win this year, I’d be thrilled.”

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Alex Lacognata powers off Turn 2 earlier this season at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. Lacognata is quickly gaining speed in 2018, and recently made his Super Late Model debut in a car owned by Hall of Fame driver Mike Rowe. (Phil Whipple/Sun Journal)


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