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Kickin The Tires

Rookie Ryder Wells currently second in micro-sprint season points run

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

After seven weeks into the POWRi 600 racing series season, 13-year-old Ryder Wells sits second overall in the restricted micro-sprint racing class with eyes on moving into the overall lead in short order.

A crash, blown engine, busted throttle assembly, broken and bent shocks have all plagued Wells’ run so-far this season but he has powered through. This past weekend an overzealous racer got on the gas a little early and drove straight into the left rear of Wells’ open-wheeled racecar causing serious damage to a shock that prevented it from compressing.

Wells said he wasn’t sure what had happened the first time he was hit by the No. 61 car on the track because he was focusing on the green flag and wanted to make sure he got on the throttle for the start. He explained the No. 61 had been bumping him from behind during the warm-up lap but he didn’t pay much attention to it.

“I knew he hit us and at first I thought he was going to end up in the seat with me,” Wells joked, recalling the impact. “Obviously, I could feel it but I didn’t know what he had done to the car.”

At the time, all Wells knew was the car began driving differently but rather than turn into the pits, he adjusted how he positioned his car to slide through the corners. Within a lap, he pulled past the leader and held on to win the heat race with what he would soon learn was a bent shock, damaged nerf bar and a buckled body panel. It was his first-ever heart race win.

When he drove back to the hauler after the heat race, that is when he and his dad – aka crew chief, Zach Wells – assessed the damage to the car. It was obvious then what had happened. Tire marks could be seen running up the side of the left body panel and the CSI (Competition Suspension Inc.) shock piston was bent about 10-degrees from straight. The two began searching for a replacement but at $2,000 they only had one set of CSI shocks and pulled out a non-adjustable shock they’d never run before. It wasn’t in the same class as the CSI shock and they weren’t even sure it would work. It was given to them as an extra part when they bought the micro-sprint.  It might work, it might not but if it did it was going to completing change how Wells’ car handled in the turns and the difference in compression could cause him to crash.

But that is when “racetrack ingenuity” kicked in and a suggestion was made to try and bend the CSI shock back straight – but how. The piston is super-strong steel and they knew they’d only get one chance and it would have to be as close to perfect as possible. It was impossible to bend by hand and they didn’t have a vice to hold the shock either. So, using the car jack and the angled v-frame of the hauler, Zach Wells positioned the shock into place as a friend slowly raised the jack to counter-bend the piston. It took two attempts to get it straight, but it worked. More importantly, the CSI shock’s seal was still strong, which meant it had compression and Ryder wouldn’t notice a difference during the race. The CSI shock truly was “bullet-proof,” Zach Wells said.

When Ryder Wells came back from his pre-race track walk, he saw the previously bent shock on his racecar and looked worried.

“What? Are we going to race it that way,” he asked?

Acting in the crew chief role rather than as a dad, Zach Wells looked at Ryder with authority and said, “It’s fixed.”

Ryder looked puzzled. Unlike many other racers his age, Ryder Wells is very attuned to his car, it’s parts and how everything goes together. He knows every piece and part and tears it down after every race weekend. As he looked over the shock, he smiled.

“How’d you do it,” he asked?

After getting the explanation on how the repair was made, there were a few high-fives exchanged. The repaired shock was also a relief for Wells’ mom, Shelli, who was at the track with them for the first time in several weeks. Ryder and Zach both admit she gets a little nervous from time to time but the CSI shock was solid and she seemed pretty relaxed about the upcoming feature race.

Wells did his usual pre-race prep and was ready for action. Any concerns he had about going into Turn 1 at full speed with the repaired CSI shock were gone. The lead car – No. 19 – was stronger than it had been in the heat race and pulled away from Wells on the start by a couple of car lengths. It didn’t help matters that, once again, the No. 61 car ran into the same area of Well’s car that he had during the heat race but Wells pulled away and would go on to finish the feature in second place. The feature went green for the entire 20-laps and as much as Wells wanted to win, he’d proven he could hold off challenges for position, deal with less experienced drivers and handle a slightly damaged race car – and this was only the seventh time he has driven the micro-sprint in competition.

“My CSI shock got bent but we fixed it. It still handled great and we were fast,” Well said, after the race. “I am just happy that I am still improving. Coming home second is a big win for us.”

Wells is from Lumberton, TX, but he is the 2018 Louisiana State Karting Champion and he finished fourth in the Jr. Pro O’Reilly Kart Nationals. He currently holds multiple track championships in Texas and Louisiana for his age class. He is used to winning and being in front of the field but just like in karting, he said he understands he has to build a foundation in micro-sprints to continue improving.

“In go-karts, I used to win a lot but I am not winning yet,” Wells explained. “I am continuing to improve in this transition and that is what is important. You have to learn and help the people who are working with your car, so you can tell them what it is doing when you get off the track.”

Wells will race Saturday night at Texana Speedway in Edna, TX near but that comes after a day of soccer, where he will be the goaltender in Kingwood, TX for the MLS Houston Dynamo-Dash Youth Soccer Club.

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