Bernal races for a purpose

Ryan Bernal, seen here in a 2012 race, recently won a record five straight races on the USAC West Coast Sprint Car Series.

Ryan Bernal doesn’t know how long he’ll continue his racing career.
There are only so many rides in the pro ranks, and at some point Bernal will decide if the ends justify the means. In the meantime, however, the 20-year-old Bernal will do whatever he can to help and support a worthy cause.
The longtime Hollister resident is hosting a charity race on Aug. 8 at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville to help raise awareness and funds for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, which enhances the quality of life for burn survivors while promoting burn education prevention.
“It’s a non-profit organization that sends young burned kids to camp for rehabilitation,” Bernal said. “My dad (Rick) was part of it when he was a firefighter, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a night at the races to support this foundation.”
The event begins at 4:30 p.m. with an autograph session with various drivers from the United States Auto Club (USAC) West Coast Sprint Car Series, and various memorabilia will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Ruch Burn Foundation.
There will also be a jump house, fire trucks and a couple of firefighters from the Hollister Fire Department on hand to sell raffle tickets. After the autograph session, auction and raffle, the drivers start racing at approximately 6 p.m.
Bernal expressed gratitude to Ocean Speedway promoter John Prentice, who is allowing Bernal to host the event.
“He’s letting us do this at his race track, so I’m thankful for that,” Bernal said. “I’m a small hometown racer, but being able to help out with charity is an honor.”
A 2012 San Benito High graduate, Bernal literally grew up watching his dad on the race track. Before he was 5 years old, Bernal was sharpening his skills on parking lots, circling the cones his dad had set up. Bernal recently set a record for winning five consecutive races on the USAC West Coast Sprint Car Series. USAC is the nation’s premier non-wing open wheel racing series, featuring sprint cars, midgets and quarter midgets.
Bernal has been driving a 360 and 410 sprint car—the 410 cars have 850 horsepower compared to 720 for the 360 cars—and the results speak for themselves. In the last couple of years, however, Bernal has also discovered another potential career as a firefighter.
He’s in the Hollister Fire Department reserve program, and working his way to finish EMT school and fire academy training. Bernal has always wanted to make a living as a pro race car driver—“When I was little, all I ever thought about was racing for a career,” he said—but he had to weigh his options recently and came up with a great backup plan.
“Racing is hard nowadays because of the economy,” Bernal said. “Money is a big thing and the talent pool is pushed aside sometimes. Racing is my true love, but sometimes you have to take a step back and weigh your options.”
No matter what happens, Bernal said one of his greatest accomplishments and honors was being able to drive for Shane Hmiel’s racing team at the 2013 Chili Bowl Nationals, arguably the nation’s best indoor sprint car event.
Hmiel was a former NASCAR driver who was banned for life in early 2006—the ban was partially lifted in 2012—after failing a third drug test. On Oct. 9, 2010, Hmiel was paralyzed from the neck down in a near-fatal racing accident.
“Since getting paralyzed, Shane hasn’t stopped trying to walk,” Bernal said. “He’s in a wheelchair and he wants to get out of it. He’s a good guy who keeps on fighting and is not going to give up. That’s something worthy admiring—the fight he shows every day.”
Race car drivers are known for being good interviews and charitable with their time to a number of great causes. Bernal is no different, cherishing each opportunity to give back and make an impact on the community.

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