As Michael Waltman was getting ready to leave a corporate event in 2012 at Allsports Grand Prix in Sterling, he decided to sign his then 8-year-old son Jake up for a safety/training course at the go-kart track.
Following a few mandatory classes to learn the fundamentals, Jake Waltman joined a league to race on Sunday mornings with other youth drivers. He continued to do so for nearly three years until the track closed in 2015.
"Ironically when it closed is kind of what propelled us to keep moving up," Jake Waltman said. "I figured out that I love racing."
Fast forward four years and Waltman, a 15-year-old freshman at John Champe High School in Aldie, now spends most of his weekends competing in the racing hotbed of North Carolina.
After two years of racing a Bandolero car at tracks throughout Virginia, Waltman is in his second year of racing a Legend car in the Young Lions division.
"We felt pretty accomplished in it. We won a race and we were doing really well," Waltman said of his experience racing a Bandolero car. "We decided to take the next step, let's venture up a little bit."
A big commitment
While racing the same Legend cars that NASCAR Cup series champions Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch honed their skills in is exciting for all involved, it takes a big financial and time commitment to do so.
Waltman's Legend car has a 140-horsepower engine and weighs about 1,250 pounds.
"There is a financial aspect to this sport. We are talking about cars and cars are not cheap," Michael Waltman said. "It's a financial commitment for my wife and myself to allow him to do this."
Jake Waltman has eased the financial burden with the help of a pair of sponsors - Dr. Chad Kasperowski, DMD and Glory Days Grill. He aspires to add more sponsors in the future.
"We would not be anywhere without them," Jake Waltman said. "They believe in me."
With approximately 140 kids ages 12-15 competing in the U.S. Legend Cars Young Lions division last year, Waltman is one of three racers who reside in Virginia. He rides shotgun as Michael Waltman makes the 6-hour drive to North Carolina to allow Jake to race against some of the best in the division on a nearly weekly basis.
An honor roll student with an understanding that if his grades drop racing stops, Jake and his family make the trek to Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord Speedway or another track in North Carolina on Friday and return home on Sunday.
"As long as there is a passion there, desire finds a way to get things done," Michael Waltman said. "And he has that desire, he wants to do it."
Once the Waltmans arrive at the track, Jake is part of a race team that is led by crew chief Kevin Cram and his son, spotter Dawson Cram.
"My wife and I sit in the stands. Jake is being managed by Dawson on the headset and Kevin sets up the car," Michael Waltman said. "We are giving him over to those who can teach him to be a better race car driver."
Kevin Cram is a former NASCAR crew chief, having worked with one of the sport's most popular drivers, Bill Elliott. Dawson Cram races in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
"In order to be successful, it requires working at both the team level and the individual level," Jake Waltman said. "Before the race, my team and I discuss race strategy, car set-up and the day's goals. We are constantly communicating and making adjustments. When on track, I work with my spotter Dawson, who continuously tells me the position of other cars, where I can gain time and what is happening on track in places I can’t easily see."
Both Jake and Michael shared a story about the first time meeting Kevin Cram and how he places more emphasis on doing the little things right than finishing position.
"He told us the first time you go to the track you are going to do 100 things wrong. The goal is the next time you come back to do 99 things wrong, then 98 things wrong and sooner or later you will not be making any mistakes. That's the goal. It doesn't matter where you finish at this stage in your career, it's about consistently getting better as a driver."
The 2019 Winter Heats Young Lions Champion, Waltman is gearing up for the Bojangles Summer Shootout Series, set for June 10 through July 30 on the frontstretch of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Waltman is aiming to make the most of his final season of age eligibility in the U.S. Legend Cars Young Lions division. Once this season concludes, Waltman plans to continue racing a Legend car.
Along with two age-based divisions - Young Lions (12-15) and Masters (40-plus), Legend cars feature Semi-Pro and Pro divisions. Waltman's preference is to compete next year in the Pro division, dependent on approval from the sanctioning body.
When Waltman's time in Legend cars is complete, racing Late model cars is a potential option and there is always the allure of racing in the NASCAR Cup series.
"Every one has dreams of racing on Sundays," Michael Waltman said. "But realistically speaking, only 43 drivers start the Daytona 500. The odds are very, very slim that will ever happen. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy racing until you are 50 or 60 years old."
Jake Waltman, who spoke with a maturity beyond his years throughout our hour-long conversation, is just looking forward to the next race.
"You have to enjoy it while you have it," he said of the opportunity to race.