Being the young offspring of a celebrity is not necessarily easy. You could be Wolfgang Van Halen and join your father’s band. You could be Michael Jordan’s sons, Marcus and Jeffrey, and have decent but unspectacular basketball careers.
Chase Elliott’s mother tried to steer him to baseball, tennis and golf, and he tried football in middle school. But in the end the son of Bill Elliott went into the family business: auto racing.
The 16-year-old prodigy hopes to make his second career ARCA start in Sunday’s Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 at Salem Speedway. (Pole qualifying is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.) Elliott qualified second and finished 10th at Mobile International Speedway in early March.
The son of the NASCAR legend is only a sophomore in high school but has goals of reaching the top circuit by 18. Elliott said he was never pushed into his father’s profession.
“It wasn’t something I was forced into doing,” he said. “It wasn’t anything that was planned out. It was my choice. It’s something that my dad has always been real cool about. It was my choice from the get-go, and if I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t be here.”
Elliott is taking a break from academics at King’s Ridge Christian School in Georgia. He describes himself as a regular student, but being around his father at a young age left him little doubt what he wanted to do. Bill Elliott won the Daytona 500 in 1985 and ’87, and Chase saw him win the 2002 Brickyard 400.
That kind of success and the racing atmosphere left an impression on the young Elliott.
“That kind of helped me get an understanding of how things work,” he said. “I realized that it would be something cool to try and do. I don’t remember an exact age, but I started in go-karts when I was young and decided that it was something I wanted to pursue.”
In 2010 Elliott became the youngest driver to win the Blizzard Series at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., the Miller Lite Series at Mobile (Ala.) International Speedway and the overall Sunoco Gulf Coast championships.
Last year he signed a multiyear agreement with Hendrick Motorsports, though he’ll continue to drive the No. 9 Chevrolet for family-owned Bill Elliott Racing until he reaches the age minimum of 18 for the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series. In last year’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season, Elliott earned three top-five finishes and six top-10s in 12 starts.
He won eight late-model races in 2011, the most significant the Snowball Derby in Pensacola, where he was the youngest winner ever.
“That was a huge race for us,” he said. “But as far as age goes, I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all I can ask for. I’m just trying to win the race just like everybody else.”
Last season he also suffered a memorable crash, when his car hit the wall at Caraway (N.C.) Speedway.
“It’s just part of it,” he said. “It was a bad crash. To somebody not familiar with racing, it feels like getting hit in the stomach with a baseball bat. You’re going real fast and then stopping suddenly. It doesn’t feel good.”
He hopes for better luck in his Salem debut on Sunday. The 200-lap, 111-mile drive will be the second of six ARCA races for him this season. He’ll return to Salem in September for the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic.
“We want to learn as much as we can this weekend,” he said of the track. “We’re going to try and run as best as we can. I definitely think we’re capable of running inside the top 10. That’s definitely something to shoot for.”