Story By: NICK GRAZIANO / VOLUSIA SPEEDWAY PARK – BARBERVILLE, FL – Dollar signs haunt Ryan Harrison’s mind. He has money into a new house, money into a new race car and money into motor work; on top of thousands needed for he and his family’s travels from England to America for a few weeks of Sprint Car racing.
“Financially it’s ridiculous,” said Harrison, of North Hampshire, UK. “If you actually stopped and thought about what it costs us, flights, accommodation, running the cars, all of us away, and everything else, if you added it up, you’d probably never do it again and think this is f@#king stupid.
“But you’re only here once.”
Harrison, a multi-time BriSCA F1 champion in England, has traveled to the United States to race Sprint Cars for the past seven years and raced Florida’s winter events since 2019. He earned his first Sprint Car win in 2022 with the United Sprint Car Series, which he considers his biggest career triumph. Last year was his first appearance at Volusia Speedway Park during the Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout and Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals – two events he’ll return to this year.
His conscience told him to stay home this winter and save money, but his dad pushed him to race.
“My dad said he’s getting older, and we need to do it,” Harrison said.
Whether in England or the United States, Harrison, now 32 years old, has never raced without his parents. And unless extra sponsorship is found, Harrison admitted he’s not sure how many more winter Speedweeks he’ll be able to attend. So, despite having to borrow money to make the trip this year, Harrison wasn’t going to deny his dad – and himself – another shot at doing what they love.
“We’re just trying to go there to have some fun and go full on, just absolutely full on,” Harrison said. “I mean, we love it. We absolutely love it.”
He made some changes and upgrades to his Sprint Car program last year, moving all his equipment from a friend’s shop in Florida to Chad Kemenah’s shop in Ohio. The move allows Harrison to make the most of his U.S. visits by hitting multiple Ohio races in a weekend, while benefiting from the help of the six-time All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car champion.
“[Chad’s] doing heaps to help us,” Harrison said. “It’s unbelievable. We’re renting a bit of space from them to keep the race trailer and stuff. Use a bit of his workshop. I was just over there during Thanksgiving, working on the car and switching some things around. They’re so much fun. Good help for us.”
He’s also added a new car to his stable. Last year, Harrison ran a car he purchased from NASCAR star Alex Bowman. This year, he’s dedicating that car to his 360 Sprint Car races, while the new car he bought from Crouch Motorsports will be his new 410-powered #97UK.
Harrison hopes to make at least five trips to the U.S. this year, first for Florida Speedweeks and then for various Ohio race weekends at tracks like Attica Raceway Park and Fremont Speedway.
The move to Ohio also means 2024 will see Harrison predominantly run 410 Sprint Car races for the first time. And while he’s having his motor freshened for the new adventure, Harrison said he knows it won’t be at the same level of the bigger teams.
But he’s not letting that deter his competitive curiosity.
“You know your arms are tied behind your back a little bit,” he said. “But all you do is see how close you can get to them. That’s our goal, see how close can you get? It’s not about beating them, it’s about how close you can get.”
In doing so, he still needs to keep the car in one piece. If he wrecks, he has to wait until he’s raised enough funds to fix the car before he can return. If he loads the car in the trailer at the end of the night with no issues, he’s planning his next trip before he’s on his flight home.
“What sometimes bothers me about the racing side is you’re racing against (many) guys who don’t pay for the cars,” he said. “They’re paid drivers, I guess. If they flip it, they just get out and get into the next one, where I’m thinking, ‘F@#k, I can’t afford to flip this or wreck this.’ You don’t go for some of the gaps and moves you should do, really. I said to my dad, ‘Maybe we need to be a little bit ruthless.’ But when we start being a little bit more ruthless it’s going to bit me.
“But in the same token, there’s no point in driving around like Miss F@#king Daisy and not going anywhere. You’re in between a rock and hard place sometimes.”
He said he’s excited to get back to Volusia, though, for the Germfree Southern Sprint Car Shootout – boasting the biggest purse in USCS history, including a $10,000 to win finale – and to race with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series during DIRTcar Nationals. While Volusia is “The World’s Fastest Half Mile” Harrison said it almost fells slower than other tracks to him because of how wide it is.
If he makes the Features for both events, he’ll consider that a successful trip, he said, easing the weight of dollar signs on his conscience.
With his family by his side and sponsorship from friends in England – KBTS, Hambridge Transport and Bensons Products – Harrison said he knows no matter what happens, he’s still living a dream many will never get to see.
“I always say, I’m a little bloke from England, fat as f@#k, having a go,” he said.