CHARLOTTE _ I recently had a chance to talk to Zack Skolnick, an up-and-comer who is attempting to become a professional driver. What separates Skolnick from many others is that he has a backup plan. In addition to racing, he is a sophomore at Belmont-Abbey College in North Carolina where he is studying for a business degree with a focus on motorsports.

The New Jersey native began racing go-karts 12 years ago at Oakland Valley Race Park in New York. “I’m still racing karts,” he said. “If you look at NASCAR, if you look at Formula 1, they all started in go-karts. Even though I am racing cars I still run karts to stay fresh.” He was part of the team that won the inaugural 24-hour race at Victory Lane Karting Center in Charlotte. He also races a spec Miata in SCCA and has run Legend cars.

Skolnick moved to North Carolina to pursue his education and his career. Last winter he gained valuable oval-track experience in the Winter Heat Series at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. He is a candidate to be a driver in the Caged Heat Series, which is an indoor racing tour with cars based on a smaller Sprint Cup car design. The circuit will travel to indoor arenas and races will be held on steeply banked, lexan surface tracks. “If I get picked it will definitely be a step in the right direction,” he said.

What is the right direction? “With my road-course racing background I would love to go Grand Am or ALMS (American Le Mans Series) racing. But the reality of racing is the money is in NASCAR and these oval series. Ideally, I would like to race in NASCAR or one of the sanctioned series. If anybody offers me a ride in anything I will take it. I would love to go Formula 1 or IndyCar racing just as the opportunity presents itself. But with the reality of racing with how much it costs, if I can’t race I’ll have my motorsports degree and work in the industry.”

Skolnick said he likes and appreciates the education he is receiving at Belmont-Abbey College. “The school itself brings in a lot of people from around the world because of the (motorsports) program. It is the only program of its type in the country. So we have students from Seattle, Jamaica and New Mexico.”

(Patrick Reynolds is a professional racing mechanic who has worked for several NASCAR teams.)

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