A youth movement

EAST NASSAU, N.Y. -- There had been an accident on the cool-down lap. Someone got into somebody else and things spiraled from there. In the middle of it was Olden Dwyer, a third-year driver from Arlington.

Dwyer, after having his race car crunched, coasted to the pits, got out of the car and took his helmet off. Turning around, an angry driver, about 30, accused Olden after the race of driving too hard after the checkered flag.

"On the cool-down, there was bunch of mayhem," said Dwyer, who finished ninth before the crash. "We slowed down, someone changed lanes and there was nowhere to go. It tears up a race car."

The argument continued between the angry driver and Dwyer when the man's wife got involved, wanting to speak to Olden's father, Ron, who also competed in the race.

"I wish he had come down and talked without his wife ... He said I was driving [badly], but you need to know the rules before you accuse me of anything. They wanted to talk to my father, but I'm the driver," Olden Dwyer said.

In the end, tempers subsided over what was a misunderstanding of pit procedure. But Dwyer wasn't fazed by what had happened, a more experienced and older driver trying to show who's boss.

He's been dealing with it his whole career -- one that began at 15, before he was legally allowed to drive on the roads in Vermont.

April 24, 2010, was a banner day in Olden Dwyer's racing career.

After four races at the end of 2009 with a top finish of 15th, Dwyer, racing in the Sportsman Division at Lebanon Valley Speedway, started the season without a ton of expectations.

"I was third in my heat race and nothing felt different," said Dwyer, now a senior at Arlington Memorial High School. "Going out for the feature, my Dad said to be smooth and hold your line. Everything fell right that night."

Dwyer took control from the drop of the green flag in the 20-lap feature, with the rest of the field in tow. For the first 12 laps, Kim Lavoy Herrick tried her best to pass Dwyer, eventually making contact on the front stretch. The collision knocked Herrick into the wall and out of the race as Dwyer continued on.

On the restart, Dwyer maintained his lead and two new challengers -- Kyle Hoffman and Jeff Watson -- both track champions -- made their move.

"We were focused that night on running 20 smooth, consistent laps and finishing the race," said Ron Dwyer, Olden's father. "As it gets closer and closer, you go, 'ooh this could happen.' I was behind the hauler dry heaving, I was so nervous. Hoffman and Watson were there every lap and they threw the kitchen sink at him."

With the two much more experienced drivers dogging the rookie as the laps progressed, things became a lot more tense in the 88JR pit.

"Having those two guys on him, I resigned to the fact on lap 15 that he was going to finish third," Ron Dwyer said. "But they couldn't rattle him. So with two laps left, I started to believe it could happen."

On the final lap, with crew chief and friend Terry Stacy watching intently from the pit area, Olden Dwyer was smooth, taking the checkered flag in only his fifth career race, setting a record as the youngest driver to win a race at Lebanon Valley Speedway.

"Going under the checkers was the most amazing feeling in the world," Olden Dwyer said. It was just simply because I didn't expect it, didn't expect to win."

He was 16.

"Afterward, he went to victory lane and when they announced his name and the fact that he was the youngest driver to win, people expected a kid looking 18 or 19 to come out, not one that looked 12," Ron Dwyer said. "People were like 'Wow.' Everyone loves to root for the underdog and to have a 16-year-old rookie beat the vets was a proud moment."

Olden Dwyer is part of a family of drivers and it's been in his blood, from almost literally, the beginning. His grandfather, Bernie Dwyer, was a driver at tracks around the area.

In 1993, his father, Ron, won a modified race in his fourth start, the fastest first-time winner at the track's history at that time. He eventually won three features in the series.

Olden was born in 1994 and had an instant front-row seat for his father's racing. As a baby, Olden would be at the racetrack, as early as a month old.

"We put him in his car carrier while I was racing," Ron Dwyer said.

Ron Dwyer raced for the next decade and a half with varied success. When Olden turned 13, he expressed interest in racing go-karts and it was an easy decision for the pair.

"I started about 5 years ago in go-karts," Olden Dwyer said. "We went to tracks in Ballston Spa, Turkey Trot (in Fort Edward), we even went to Syracuse a couple times. I raced for a couple of years and wanted to get into bigger cars. Dad was getting out of it at the time and I was almost old enough to get in and race."

So in August 2009, 15-year-old Olden sat in a sportsman car ready to take on the competition at the Valley's third-highest level. Admittedly, there were nerves.

"It was definitely intimidating in the beginning but now it's just another Saturday night with everyone I race with," Olden Dwyer said. "It's a different experience knowing that guys had more experience then me, but it's not like that anymore."

"Inside the track, everyone's warm and fuzzy and look at the young kid," Ron Dwyer added. "Once you roll on the track, the nice is over and people want to take advantage in every way possible; that's a racer's mindset anyway."

There's no set age limit at Lebanon Valley, but Ron Dwyer said officials don't want anyone under 15 racing.

"It was totally different," said Olden Dwyer, remembering his first race while sitting in the team's hauler before the race on Sept. 1. "The first time I passed my first car, I was the most excited kid in the world. I came in [the pit area], everyone had a big smile on their face and a great attitude and it's been great ever since."

Dwyer was 17th in his first race, and finished 21st and 15th in the final two races of the 2009 season.

He came in for the opener in 2010 and had the race of his life.

"It didn't hit me [that I had won] until I came in the pits," Olden said. "I wasn't thinking about the win."

For the first few weeks of 2010 after the win, Dwyer finished no lower than 13th, scoring three more top 5's along the way. But reality sunk in on June 26, when he crashed hard in turn 3, finishing 17th. He was OK physically, but mentally he had taken a shot to his confidence.

"You were Superman for five weeks, then reality struck," said Ron Dwyer.

"It was nice to win the first one, but it was kind of a fluke," Olden said. "It's part of racing."

After six double-digit finishes in a row, he was 5th on Aug. 7 and finished the season 10th in points, a respectable showing considering his age.

"I know and like Olden a lot," said Chad Pierce, 39, a Bennington native who won this season's championship. "You see the young kids and they're tough as nails to beat. It seems like they're just out of diapers. But they're still racers, whether they're 16 or 40. There is a lot of respect back and forth."

Itching to get back to victory lane, the 2011 season couldn't come fast enough. But despite three top 5's and 11 top 10s in 15 events, Dwyer couldn't reach the top of the podium. He did improve to seventh in points.

"We didn't win a race last year, we wanted to step it up, and hopefully try to repeat [a win]," Olden Dwyer said. "But it didn't happen, and it sucked a little bit. We did have some good runs."

The Pierce and Dwyer families go back a couple of decades, when Chad's father helped Ron in his early days of racing.

"Olden and Ron are both good competitors and Olden has adapted very well to the Sportsman ranks," said Pierce, who just finished his 10th season on the circuit. "He's tough and does a great job."

This season, Dwyer started out slow, but picked it up near the end of the season. His best finish was a runner-up run on Aug. 18 where he led for most of the event but was passed on the final lap. He finished the year 8th in points, the third straight top-10 finish.

"He's come into his own in the past four, five weeks, having that swagger of confidence," Ron Dwyer said. "It's not cocky, it's more, 'I'm fast and you'll have to contend with me.'"

Going forward, Olden said he will stay in the Sportsman division, but if something else happens to switch, he'll consider changing divisions. He will be driving at both Lebanon Valley and Albany-Saratoga in 2013, using a car his father has worked on this season.

"I'm at the end of my [racing] competitively, my heart's not in it," Ron Dwyer said. "My heart is with Olden. A couple weeks ago, when he passed me for the lead, I pulled in, because I want to watch my son race."

After three years, Olden is becoming the veteran. But he'll still be younger than most of his competition.

"I feel like I can compete with anyone out there," Olden said.


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