Houston Community News
By Howard Roden
While Alec Udell’s fascination with all things wheels started before he turned 5, it was on his fifth birthday when he received a go-kart from his grandfather that the young boy displayed his interest in racing.
Udell’s first spin behind the wheel was a memorable one for his father Bob. The kart had a maximum speed of 35 mph.
“He had it floored,” Bob Udell recalled.
Fearful that Alec might not negotiate the cul-de-sac at the end of their street, his father sprinted after him. However, Alec managed to turn around without incident, leaving him hooked on the sport.
A decade later, Alec’s racing career is progressing at a remarkable rate. At age 15, he’s not old enough to possess a driver’s license, but in January he signed with Momentum Autosports as one of its two drivers on the Sports Car Club of America World Challenge Series, making him the youngest competitor in the 22-year history of that professional circuit.
“It makes me feel honored to be given the opportunity to do this,” Udell said. “I’m a very privileged 15-year-old.”
A student at The John Cooper School in The Woodlands, Udell’s ultimate goal is to race in the Indy Car League or NASCAR. Almost every weekend, the personable teenager can be found piloting his 415-horsepower Camaro Z28 at speeds in excess of 140 mph at a track near Angleton.
Udell’s World Challenge Series debut in St. Petersburg, Fla., March 25-27 was mixed. He qualified third in a field of 16 cars, but mechanical problems kept him from finishing both GTS races.
“Regardless of the final results, it was a great weekend,” Udell said. “There were a lot of lessons for me on what it takes for me to be competitive in pro racing.”
Despite his age, Udell said he was treated like any other driver.
“They showed me great respect,” he said.
Udell’s next World Challenge event is a couple of races May 20-22 in Toronto, Canada. He is committed to four two-race events this year.
A nationally competitive go-kart driver since the age of 8, Udell attracted the attention of Momentum Autosports’ principals – owner Ray Butler and vice president Jordon Musser – at a race in Las Vegas last November. Udell turned in some exceptional lap times during his very first test session.
“We knew he was fast in karting,” said Butler, whose racing group is based in Lewisville. “Karting is a good way to evaluate a driver. The skills you pick up in karting translate well to cars.”
To compete in the World Challenge Series at age 15, Udell had to receive a waiver.
“There was intense evaluation before they would let him drive. You have to have a resume and the experience,” Butler said.
However, that doesn’t mean Udell’s unique status as a racing wonderkid isn’t important from a financial perspective. The annual cost of operating a World Challenge Series racing team is in excess of $600,000. By comparison, an NHRA team runs between $6 million and $7 million a year, and $23 million for a NASCAR team.
Momentum Race Group, Amsource Capital and Kart Nation are among Alec’s current sponsors.
Holly Chervnsik, of Houston-based Stinger Sports Marketing, was hired to help make that list grow. She acknowledges his age and boyish charm make him attractive for the young demographic.
“That’s what makes him so sellable to this racing team,” Chervnsik said. “My 6-year-old (daughter) thinks he’s cuter than (teen idol) Justin Bieber.
“For some big corporation trying to reach out for the younger market of technology and apparel, he’s perfect,” she said.
Udell plans to use his youth to open doors, but he knows his talents as a driver will be the ultimate sales tool.
“It probably does make it easier that I’m 15, but I have to act mature if I’m going to make the most of this opportunity,” he said. “I have to be conscious of how I handle myself. I’ve learned how not to let the little things bug me when I’m racing.”
Udell admits there have been times when his father and his driving coach, Stuart Robinson, pulled him aside and showed him better ways to handle situations.
“If there’s someone with the potential to be the next racing star, it’s Alec,” said Robinson, a seven-time U.S. national kart champion.
Alec does have outside interests. He plays the guitar and received a ukulele for Christmas.
“I play them when I get stressed out,” he said.
Udell passed on a World Championship Series race in California earlier to honor a prior commitment to participate in the school’s performance of the play “The Crucible.” And he manages to remain on the honor roll, a requirement necessary to continue his racing, his father said.
“My academics are a priority,” Alec said. “My teachers have been very flexible with my racing schedule.”
Alec Udell comes from a family of racecar drivers. His great-great grandfather raced in the formative years of the Indianapolis 500, while his grandfather owned and operated a drag strip in western Pennsylvania.
Bob Udell, senior vice president of Consolidated Communications in Conroe, raced formula Mazdas before the arrival of his daughter Kayla and Alec. The family of Bob’s wife, Kim, also have a connection to racing, he said.
“Racing has always come first for Alec,” Bob said. “When he was 3, he knew all the drivers on NASCAR, and he had a complete set of Matchbox racing cars.
“Anything with wheels excited him.”
It still does.
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