LA MIRADA >> When Ryan Vargas, was growing up, he knew he wanted to work on cars.
At the time, that meant taking them apart. The first job he ever wanted as a child was “to work at the dump, to smash cars,” he said.
Now, Ryan races them, and he’s pretty good, too — good enough that, on Dec. 9, he was honored by the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina as one of the best young racers in the country.
Ryan received the 2017 Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award, a prestigious honor NASCAR gives out each year to recognize a high-performing, young minority or female driver. He received the award for his performance in the Whelen All-American Series, a NASCAR racing championship held at local racetracks around the country.
Prior to the Trailblazer Award, Ryan also set records at tracks in several states, including California, Nevada and Arizona. He won a Rookie of the Year award in 2015, and reached fifth place in California state standings in 2016.
At the Whelen All-American Series banquet where he received the award, Ryan gave a speech about the hurdles he overcame while competing against adults.
“I was the youngest driver at every track we visited,” he said. “I was roughed up and yelled at, but I held my ground. And by the end of the season, I now, in my opinion, feel as if I am well accepted among the other racers and families as a competitive race car driver.”
Ryan got his start at age 11 racing bandoleros, entry-level miniature versions of race cars young racers drive competitively. Even at that young age, he was starting late — some drivers start racing go carts at age 4, Ryan said.
He hopes to one day become a professional racer, but for now he has to finish high school first — Ryan manages straight As despite spending all of his weekends traveling around the country for either racing or training.
“You’ll see me a track practice, and I end up leaving early almost everyday because I have to do homework,” he said. He has 20 races scheduled for 2017, and will spend his other weekends practicing. Ryan said at some point that might mean taking online classes to keep up in school.
“But hopefully not,” he added. “I love going to school. I love hanging out with my friends at school.”
His dedication to racing may have come at the cost of a more typical adolescence, Ryan said.
“I’ve had to miss so many birthday parties and hanging out with friends because I’m at the shop, or I’m at the race track,” he said. “But it brings (my family) closer, because I’m able to experience a lot with them. There’s hardly any time when I’m not with my parents.”
Ryan’s mom, Dawn, said she didn’t know anything about racing until her son became interested. Now she loves the sport, and says her family has made great friendships through it.