Life on the Road: Shark Racing

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The World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series employs one of the longest, and most grueling schedules in all of motorsports. Over the course of nine months, the series will travel as west as Skagit Speedway in Alger, Wash., and east as Weedsport Speedway in Weedsport, N.Y, while also going as south as Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., to Oshweken Speedway in Oshweken, Ontario, Canada.

With close to 90 races on the schedule, the average fan may look at the tour as a grinding, tough way to make a living. For the drivers and teams of the World of Outlaws, this is what they love.

Shark Racing, founded by former World of Outlaws driver Bobby Allen, is a multi-car organization that furnishes rides for Allen’s son, Jacob, and his grandson, Logan Schuchart. Other than the two drivers and team owner, Shark Racing only has two other full-time employs, Jake Ranzani and Joseph Sease, who were just hired this year.

Shark Racing first joined the World of Outlaws tour in 2014 on an extremely tight budget that prohibited either driver from competing with fear of harming their equipment or budget. In their first season, Schuchart finished in the 12th position in points with five top-five finishes, 15 top tens and one quick-time award. The younger Allen finished in the 13th position in points with a single top ten finish.

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Since their inaugural season in the series, Shark Racing has grown exponentially, including hiring their first full-time employ, Ranzani (also known as Big Jake), at the end of last season. Ranzani, who raced mainly four-wheeler motocross before an injury hampered his career last year, is a Pennsylvania native and grew up with Allen and Schuchart, who are from Hanover, Pa.

“I’ve always known these guys – when we were four years old we used to race pedal bikes around,” Ranzani said. “I’ve always known Jake (Jacob Allen), but back then he was known as Indiana Jake because he and I have the same name, so that’s what I always called him.

“He messaged me last year and said they needed some help, and he figured since I raced four-wheelers that I generally would be mechanically inclined. I was hurt at the time where I couldn’t even move my hand because I had real bad tendinitis from racing. So I said “Yeah, I have off for a couple weeks.” Before that point I had never touched a sprint car in my life and that was less than a year ago.”

Ranzani became a quick study and is now the chief mechanic on both the Mark Pell Tire Service/Marty Thompson Investments No. 1S of Schuchart, and the Mark Pell Tire Service/JRC Transportation No. 1A of Allen.

“I have learned tremendously a lot, and you can’t pick a better teacher than Bobby Allen,” Ranzani added. “He doesn’t get frustrated if you mess up once or twice, he wants you to learn and that is very cool, he’s a very good person to learn from. I also have learned a lot from Jake and Logan too.”

Prior to heading to the 45th Annual DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park at the start of February, Shark Racing continued to improve on their organization, adding Sease to the road crew.

“I love this – it’s a dream I had as a little kid,” Sease, whose nickname is Junior, said. “I really didn’t do much back home, I did some stuff for Lance Dewease, mainly clean and stuff. Then when they decided they weren’t going to do it full-time, I really didn’t have a home.

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“That was until I found out, through the grapevine, that Shark needed some help; they never really had two full-time crew guys, so I went down to their cart track at Bobby Allen’s Speedway 94 and told them that I am willing to bust my butt, and that my work ethic is phenomenal, which has helped me at a lot of my jobs, and this is something that I am really passionate about.”

Now, with two full-time employees and two full-time drivers under the watchful eye of Bobby Allen, who is one of the original Outlaws from the 1978 season and the 1990 Knoxville Nationals champion, the team is now in the midst of their third full-time season, looking for their first win as a team.

“Between Jake and me, we really don’t have rules, we have more of a system,” Sease said. “We know how to do what we know how to do – there’s no set way to do things, it just goes the way it goes. It’s working so far, we have almost doubled our money since last year and the year before that.

“Whatever we are doing it’s helping them get up front. It’s good to see because we are the underdogs, we’re running stuff that people wouldn’t run and we are doing just as good as they are. You saw that at River Cities Speedway, Logan [Schuchart] led almost the whole dang thing. You had Donny Schatz, David Gravel and all them big boys munching for him. It was just one of those things that was nice to see.”

On the road, Shark Racing rarely purchases new tires or rebuilds their engines like most of the other Outlaw teams. They have two cars in their trailer that they race each night, and only one spare motor that is being stashed for the Knoxville Nationals in August. Most competitive teams, such as Kasey Kahne Racing with Mike Curb and Tony Stewart Racing, have at least one spare car and two spare engines.

Even with less money and equipment, Shark Racing has already scored a combined five top-five finishes, 19 top tens and two quick-time awards in 42 races.

“We were sitting at the race track in North Dakota [River Cities Speedway] watching those other teams clean their rigs, and I looked to our guys and said “I don’t even think I could do it”,” Ranzani said. “If we cleaned our rig, we would be like “What are we doing? Why are we doing this? We could be doing so many other things.””

“When we break a front end, it’s going to take us twice as long to change it. There is no way we are changing one in two minutes. So instead of cleaning the rig, we could be doing things like that and having that preparation. We are out here mainly for the experience. Bobby likes to call it ‘school’, he says we are going to school.”

Not only do they operate at a high level on a low budget, but they do so out of the same trailer that the elder Allen won the Knoxville Nationals out of in 1990. The trailer, that Bobby built, recently underwent a facelift in the off season, as Allen added an additional three feet on the rear to house two four-wheelers that had previously been stored behind the truck’s fifth wheel.

Unlike most teams, Shark Racing pulls their equipment down the road with a toterhome, which is a common term indicating a motorhome built around a semi-truck chassis. In the past, this has allowed the crew and drivers to sleep in their truck instead of spending money on hotel rooms. With their recent success and expansion, Shark has not had to utilize the camper portion of their tractor-trailer like in previous years, but still does when necessary.

“Bobby [Allen] does a lot of the driving, so if we will stay somewhat close to where we are racing and either work there that day, or drive somewhere close to the track and work all day, or all night if it’s too hot,” Sease said. “Most teams will go and wash that night [after the race], and maybe do a little bit to get their car ready. Compared to us, where we don’t go to the car wash as a way to save money.

“Those teams do a lot of their stuff at the track because they get brand new stuff every night, compared to us, where we don’t. I go to the KKR [Kasey Kahne Racing with Mike Curb] guys, or search around and find some nice tires for us. We get help from both the KKR cars, Jason Sides, Paul McMahan and Donny Schatz has helped us out before.”

Ranzani added:

“My girlfriend, Brooklyn, sells the programs – so on a normal night, after we load everything up, depending on where the next track is, we start drinking. We don’t get like toasted, but we like to celebrate because if we just make it in the feature, or get a top 10 or a top 15, that’s a victory for us. We are all happy, we could even come in dead last, but the car is running and everyone is alright, so we have a good time. Now if we have a race the next day and have 200 or 300 miles to go, we load up and leave. Bobby doesn’t really let too many people drive the rig, he has let Logan a few times and me some, but he’s mainly the one that drives…That’s what we normally do, we try to get close because we have so much preparation to do, and it’s hard because we drive all night and have to get up early the next day…I tell Bobby to call me to wake me up and if I don’t get up then come beat on the door. We may only sleep for like an hour, but he will call me and we will be back on the road again. I take naps when I can but it’s rough.”

Life on the road is not as bad as it seems for these young men who rarely have a day off. While they are rarely home and rarely see their family, they both admit they appreciate what they do and being able to travel the country.

“I am 21 years old, the whole living on the road thing doesn’t faze me because of my racing background,” Ranzani said. “All I have done is live on the road. All I know is how to work and have fun, so living on the road isn’t hard for me. I got my permit on a Monday, then on Tuesday we were loaded up and headed to Texas.

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“Our off days are usually our travel days. If we do get some time off where we get the cars done early, Bobby will usually get us somewhere where we can go see something. When we were in Indianapolis, we went to see the Indianapolis 500. Bobby is good about getting us somewhere where we can see some stuff, and he’s good about saying if we get our work done then go see it. He wants us to have a good time.”

In the midst of their first full-time season traveling, both young employees have enjoyed their life on the road and both agree that, in their career paths, it is all about making memories and having a good time.

Although the obvious struggle is trying to defeat the established Outlaw teams on a lower budget, the comradery between the competitors is unlike anything else in sports, as these teams travel and face each other for a majority of the year.

“We are all one big family, there is no hate around anywhere,” Sease said referring to the atmosphere in the World of Outlaws pits. “At The Dirt Track at Charlotte, Logan blew a right rear out in his heat and we weren’t really prepared and had to run back to grab a jack and tire wrench. By the time Jake and I got back, [the other teams] had the car up on a jack ready to go, so all we had to do was take the tire off.

“If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if we would have gotten him back out in time, because we only get two minutes. So without the KKR and JJR [Jason Johnson Racing] guys, we couldn’t have got it done.”

Even though they don’t travel in the same form as a Kasey Kahne Racing with Mike Curb or Tony Stewart Racing, Shark Racing has established themselves as contenders at each and every track as the team has grown, and expanded in their three years on tour.

“We all do this because of the love for racing and who wants to be normal?” Ranzani added. “I did try college and it just wasn’t for me. I don’t want a boring life, I want to be old and say “look at this, look what I did.”

“The things I have gotten to see, you can’t buy. You can’t buy memories.”

What you can buy is tickets to World of Outlaws races. Or, you can enter for a chance to win a free trip. Use the form below to be entered: