Staples High School racer has Formula One dreams
Published 3:40 pm, Thursday, May 3, 2018
WESTPORT — Seated on his father’s lap, Spencer Brockman learned to drive a manual car at age 7. It was a Mini Cooper he first practiced on, parked in the sale lot at his father’s Mazda dealership in Milford.
“The first couple tries I nailed it perfectly. But then my dad says I got a little too cocky and on the fourth try, I stalled,” Brockman, now an 18-year-old Staples senior, said about an early lesson he learned from Michael Brockman, his father and a professional racer for more than three decades.
But the younger Brockman was not discouraged. From the lot at his father’s dealership, Brockman graduated to go-kart tracks, on which he raced from age 8 to 15, before taking the wheel in full-size race cars.
Brockman is an aspiring Formula One racer and has worked his way up through the American ranks and races in the North American Atlantic Championship series, a prestigious group he said is a few steps below his Formula One dream. He placed third in nationals in 2016, won the series’ Southeast Conference and the series’ Hoosier Super Tour Champions in 2017. He hopes to continue to climb in the sport that is lesser known than its popular American counterpart, Nascar.
“Nascar is mainly oval racing and they do a few road courses a year. Formula One is strictly road courses ranging from a few miles to five miles and it’s all lefts and rights instead of just oval elevation changes,” Brockman said. “The Nascar car is more of a stock car. It looks more like a normal car. Formula One is open wheel, open cockpit and much faster. They’re doing like 220 miles per hour in some places.”
The cars are built meticulously to minimize negative aerodynamic forces, like drag, and maximizing positive aerodynamic forces, like downforce.
“Everything about the car is designed in a wind tunnel to cut through the air as clean as possible. You want to have the least amount of drag. What it comes down to is decreasing drag while increasing downforce because downforce is what keeps the car stuck to the ground,” Brockman said.
The top racers and biggest sponsors for this particular style of racing are based in Europe, Brockman said.
“In Europe racing is like baseball is here. All the kids do it. Every weekend they’re in a car, practicing, practicing, practicing. It’s very serious and it’s the best competition,” Brockman said.
Brockman said there are four professional “formulas” in Europe, beginning with four and ending with one, the most competitive. Top teams, like Ferrari, will invest in a few drivers at each level, who they believe could move up within the system, not unlike Major League Baseball’s minor leagues. Lower-level racers work with the top talent to learn the ropes. To get to the top division, racers must first prove gain sponsors and prove themselves in European races, then hope to be picked up by a top-tier team and await their opportunity.
“Formula One has 20 to 25 drivers a year. Those are the best drivers in the world and they don’t do it for only one year. If you’re lucky there are two or three spot openings in a year. So you have to be at the right place at the right time,” Brockman said.
As a result, Brockman is trying to make his own luck. Because he pays to rent the car he drives and does not own it — the high cost of the equipment prohibits most young racers from buying — the car stays with its owner and Brockman’s team manager, Ove Olsson. To make up for time lost racing, Brockman spends hours a week, especially as races approach, practicing on a simulator, kept at his dad’s car dealership. He has a strict workout regimen that includes hours in the gym every day to fortify his body against the strong gravitational force acting against him when he goes around a corner at high speeds.
“It’s hard to put a car at 120 miles per hour with no driver assists or power steering through a corner. Also g-forces. So when you’re traveling there’s a few corners we’re going through at over 140 mph and just the g-load on your neck and your whole body, one of the biggest things I do is neck and arm workouts,” Brockman said, adding people commonly underestimate the physical toll racing takes.
The time spent traveling to races, which are nationwide and are usually between May and November, cuts significantly into the time Brockman spends in school. Often races will be scheduled for Saturdays or Sunday, but the days leading up to them are spent preparing. In addition, Brockman spends most of the month of January getting track time in Florida or North Carolina. This year, he estimated he was only in school for seven or eight days in January.
“It’s constant emailing with teachers, meeting with my counselor. They all support me and they say as long as I maintain the grades I can miss school. I can’t just flunk out of all my classes and expect to be able to miss school,” Brockman said.
Despite his busy schedule, Brockman has excelled. Upon graduating from Staples this June, Brockman will take part-time classes locally while focusing on racing and pursuing sponsorships that could take him to Europe.
“I’ve gone over there a couple times; we’ve done pretty well,” Brockman said. “So I know I’m quick enough and can compete with those European drivers.”
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