At 14, Owen Carlson is retiring as the .25 Midget racing world champion.
This doesn't mean Carlson is retiring from racing. The Somerset High School freshman is outgrowing the .25 Midget cars and is moving up to Micro Sprint racing.
Carlson earned the national championship in the USAC Heavy Formula Mod Pavement Senior Division after racing nationally this summer. He also finished fourth in the nation in both Heavy 160 and Heavy World Formula divisions. His race season took him everywhere from Phoenix to Texas to North Carolina. He has raced at some of the most prestigious racetracks in the country, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Pocono Raceway. Through his career, Owen has more than 100 wins in feature races and eight track championships. His fellow drivers at his home track voted him the Jack Albinson Sportsmanship Award recipient in 2017.
The two sanctioning organizations in .25 midgets are USAC and QMA, and each has two divisions for youth races in the .25 midgets, with drivers 8 years old and younger in the junior division and drivers 9-16 in the senior division. The senior division is divided into light and heavy, based on the combined weight of the vehicle and driver. With Owen now at 120 pounds, he and his dad, Chris, decided to move up to the heavy division, where they can have a combined weight up to 325 pounds. There are several classes of .25 midget cars, with Owen racing in Mod World Formula, World Formula and 160 this year.
Their season started at Phoenix and San Antonio. When they competed at the Eastern Grands in Ohio in June, they made the switch to the heavy level. He raced at Indianapolis from July 1-9, including a win in the 160 Heavy Feature at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The weekend that put him in national contention was Aug. 18-20 at Pocono, when he earned two championships and a second place finish in his three races. A win at the Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 17 in the World Formula Mods put him in a tie for first place. That meant Owen needed to compete in Charlotte, N.C. in October to determine the championship. And it wasn't until Owen won that championship, by a half a car length ahead of Taylor Nibert, that he was the world champion. Nibert would have been the world champion if she'd beaten Owen in that race. They'd battled through the final 10 laps of the race, with each of them passing the other several times in those final laps. Owen said he strategically drove a course in the final lap that prevented Nibert from passing him again.
"He won in a great battle," Chris said.
The .25 midgets run on a track one/twentieth of a mile in length that would fit inside a hockey arena. They can reach up to 60 miles per hour in a race. The car is equipped with a steering wheel and gas and brake pedals and the cars run on alcohol. Drivers are required to wear all the similar safety gear as NASCAR drivers wear.
Owen received his first .25 midget as a present from his uncle for his fifth birthday. He first started racing at Elko Speedway in Minnesota. That's where the Somerset racing connection began. They saw Ty Sampair of Somerset was already racing there. The Sampairs and Carlsons travelled together for the first several years of racing, until Ty grew and moved up to Micro Sprints.
In 2012, a .25 midget club started at The Cedar Lake Arena at Cedar Lake Speedway. The Arena now hosts .25 midget races each Saturday from April through October, attracting drivers from all over western Wisconsin. The races at The Arena gave Owen a chance to advance his skills. They often travel now with another local racer, Joe Valento, and his family.
For the Carlsons, racing is a family event. They all are involved, even Owen's grandparents. And when they're not following Owen's racing, they're following younger sister, Sonja, and her competitive dancing.
The need to move up a level in racing is clear when Owen steps into his race suit. He said the suit hung loosely on him at the start of last season. But now, after growing 4 inches in a year, the uniform is stretched taut when he zips it. Chris said they knew for some time this would be Owen's final season in the .25 midgets.
"We did everything we can do at the high level," Chris said. "To have this type of season, it couldn't be any better."
For 2018, Owen has partnered with Farrell Frameworks, Momo's Racing Engines and CSI Shocks to begin racing in micro sprint cars. Lucas Oil and Hiperf.com will continue as major sponsors. These are bigger vehicles that run 600cc motorcycle engines, and they are run on a larger track. Tracks in Princeton and Brainard in Minnesota are the closest area tracks. The Carlsons made a trip to Tulsa, Okla., this weekend, to begin immersing themselves in the world of micro sprint cars. Chris said they'll race locally for several months before branching out to compete on a more national level. They've purchased a micro sprint car, which is due for arrival in February. Their three .25 midget cars are now up for sale.
Chris said the plan is to have Owen race micros for two or three years, before he'll move up another level. Owen said his eventual goal "is the World of Outlaw Sprint Cars."
Owen has a website for his racing (owencarlsonracing.com) and they live stream many of their races through the Owen Carlson Racing page on Facebook.