Seven-year-old Carson Neel won the New Smyrna Little 500 on Dec. 27.
Racing cars is in Tom Neel’s blood. His father, Tom Neel Sr. — a former road and Formula Vee racer — taught him how to drive. Neel Jr. started off racing go-karts as a kid and when he got older, he got into all-road racing, which he competed in for most of his adult life.
This past year, however, Tom decided to take his hands off the wheel. Instead, he handed it over to his 7-year-old son Carson Neel, who has spent the past year learning the ins and outs of racing from his father.
“It’s a team sport and once you start, you can’t get out of it,” Tom said. “It really has brought our family together.”
Carson started driving at 6 years old when Santa Claus brought him a black-and-gold quarter midget race car for Christmas. He’s thinking of nicknaming the car “Loose Wheel Neel.”
Carson first watched his dad race when Carson was 3 years old. His dad won the first race Carson ever watched — and he was hooked. He’s been obsessed with NASCAR since age 4. His favorite driver is Joey Logano. And he wants nothing more than to be a NASCAR driver when he grows up.
Most importantly, it’s his favorite way to spend time with his dad.
Racing is a family affair for the Neels.
The father and son duo can usually be found in one of two places: at The Parts Group Motosports Inc. — the family’s auto shop in Bunnell — where they prep Carson’s car for races, or at the Little New Smyrna Speedway — Carson’s home track.
Carson has spent the past year soaking up knowledge on racing — both mechanical and physical.
Tom has taught grown men how to drive race cars, but he’s had an easier time teaching his kid.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” he said. “Young kids, they’re a blank slate, so it’s easy to teach them. Carson’s taken it up pretty quick.”
The hours, sweat and dollars poured into practice are to prepare Carson for his ultimate goal: winning races.
He competed in 25 local races in 2018, and on Dec. 26-27, he raced in the New Smyrna Little 500.
It was biggest race of his life.
Racers from all around the country lined up at the starting line at the Little New Smyrna Speedway for the New Smyrna Little 500, a 20-lap race.
Carson, competing in the Red Rookie age group (ages 5 to 9), started in third place. His dad gave him the initial push, and he then zipped off upward of 30 mph, bumper-to-bumper with eight other drivers.
“There were some really fast people next to me,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to pass them.”
On the inside, he was nervous. On the outside, he was as calm as ever. Even when he was behind other cars, he didn’t panic. He relied on all the training and knowledge passed down from his dad, instead.
“It’s hard to teach a young kid who wants to win a race to settle down and have patience,” Tom said. “Most kids just want to drive and bang off of people. He doesn’t do that. He’s calm and collected.”
By the time Carson crossed the finish line, he was about a fourth of a lap ahead of second place.
“To watch the joy on his face, that smile, it’s hard to describe,” Tom said of his son’s victory. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Entering 2018, Carson set the goal of winning the New Smyrna Little 500. He’s since accomplished that feat. This year, he’ll be working his way up to his next big racing event: the U.S. Auto Club’s quarter midget season-opening race at the Daytona International Speedway, the home of NASCAR’s most celebrated event, in early February.
“He’s only in the beginning stages of his career, but he’s already gone way above and beyond what we expected,” Tom said. “It’s beyond words.”