Jared Woolf wanted this to be a perfect weekend.
Maybe he wanted it too much.
The 23-year-old Manteca native has been racing go-karts since he was 7, winning regional S2 Class titles and forming the driver half of an inseparable team with his father Jerry Woolf, the team’s builder, financier, mechanic, emotional therapist.
So last year, when the news spread throughout the close-knit community that is Superkarts! USA that the 2014 SummerNationals would be staged on the streets of Downtown Modesto, the Woolfs put together a plan.
This weekend was going to be special. They’d gear their entire season toward the Modesto event, tweaking, investing and doing all they could to make sure everything – kart, drive, team – was primed to make a strong showing for the home folks.
And from there, they’d ride the momentum of the SummerNationals into the SuperNational. Yeah, it was all set up to be a great racing season.
On Oct. 11, Jerry Woolf – a man of boundless energy – died of a heart attack at 53.
The racing team, broken, went silent. Jared Woolf wasn’t interested in continuing kart racing without his dad.
“When Jerry passed away in October we didn’t know what Jared was going to do,” said Renee Woolf, Jared’s mother, who caters for the Leading Edge racing team, of which Jared is a member. “I spoke with Jared about it in April or May and told him that if he still wanted to run this race that we’d make it happen. He still wasn’t sure.”
It wasn’t until about three weeks ago that Jared Woolf decided he wanted to run in Modesto. When it came down to the actual decision, he said it was something that needed to happen. It would be one last race for his father, and then he’d hang-up the helmet.
“My dad, before he passed away, really wanted to run this race,” he said. “I was kicking it around afterward whether or not to do it, especially since there’s a lot of money involved in it.
“At the last minute I called around to get some sponsorship help. Without the sponsors I wouldn’t be here. But this is just one last race for my pops. My one last deal in his hometown, so let’s give it heck and see what happens.”
Getting the kart in shape was one of the least of his worries. This is an expensive sport, and he needed last-second sponsors.
In yet another tribute to the closeness of the kart community, the sponsors were there and willing. The old friends on the other end of the phone, such as City Tire Sales, Snap-On Tools, Mike Beeler, American Chevrolet and others, were enthusiastic about helping.
The sponsors were there, in part, because they know how deep racing runs in Woolf’s blood. One of his grandfathers worked on the crew of Modesto racing legend Jack McCoy, winner of a record 54 races on NASCAR’s west coast circuit.
Jerry Woolf grew up in that arena, and eventually joined the crew of West Coast Stock Car Hall of Famer Allen Beebe and his Taco Bell racing team.
“When Jared got old enough to race cars, Jerry dropped out of those teams so he could help his son race, and that’s when Jared started racing karts,” Renee Woolf said.
Jared Woolf won his first regional karting title in 2000, when he was 9. Another regional title followed the next year, and other crowns were scattered, including the S2 Semi-Pro Stock Moto title in 2011.
And this weekend was going to cap it off. Jared was set to run strong in his father’s memory, then ride his kart into the garage for the final time.
That’s how it works in Pixar films, right?
During Friday’s practice run, Woolf spun, snapping a rear axle and cracking his driver’s seat. A piece fell off his kart during Saturday’s qualifying runs after only three laps, severely hindering his position for the late afternoon heats.
And during the first heat he made wheel contact with another kart, spinning and crashing into a water-filler barrier, causing too much damage for the kart to continue.
Was he trying too hard, knowing that this would be his final karting weekend?
“I still haven’t learned how not to try too hard in all my years of racing,” he said. “You always push yourself to the absolute limit and you have to do that all the time, and you either have it or you don’t. When you’re doing that, stuff happens and there’s nothing you can do.”
Woolf’s weekend appeared finished. His weekend racing tribute to his father was close to being reduced to three spins and a slide.
If there’s anything this region should take away from the debut of elite karting in Downtown Modesto, it’s the camaraderie of the teams. Woolf was starting to pack his gear for the weekend when Todd Cindell, another Leading Edge team member, just happened to have an extra cart available.
“I did it because Jared’s a good kid,” said Cindell, who lives in Nampa, Idaho. “He helped me out in a race a long time ago and I know Jared’s a good kid with a good heart.”
So Woolf, who is engaged and makes his living as a pile driver, was back on the track Sunday.
There will be other tracks, other types of racing in his future, but Woolf swears he’ll never again get behind the wheel of a kart. In one way or another, he’ll always be a driver.
“It’s a bad thing to have in your blood, but I do have it growing up the way I did,” he said. “When racing is in your blood you always spend what money you have on racing, and then you figure out how you’re going to make the house payment. You always have tires on the car but you might not have food on the table. That’s just the way racing is.”
Here’s how we save that Pixar film. There will be a Woolf son, who upon seeing his father at the track will feel that racing blood speed through his young veins. And daddy will recognize it.
“I don’t think there will ever be closure, but this weekend is a tribute to my dad and all the racing we did together,” Woolf said. “I’m hanging it up because driving karts without him isn’t the same.
“I’ll wait until I have a kid or two and do it all over again.”
And that would be the ultimate tribute.