In the last three to four weeks of the first semester, San Benito High sophomore Adam Lemke was hardly around campus. The aspiring pro race car driver was in places like Indianapolis, North Carolina and South Carolina doing what he does best: racing.
The 2017 season was another step in the right direction for Lemke, who started driving a Late Model car late in the season. In six races, Lemke finished in the top 5 on all but one occasion. Despite the solid finish, Lemke knew it could’ve been even better.
“We had a fast car, but got caught up in some wrecks,” Lemke said. “We should’ve had some wins, but it was the first time in that car and I wasn’t used to it.”
Lemke went from driving in the USAC Western Midget Series to Junior Late Model cars for Naake-Klauer Motorsports. Late Model cars are heavier and have more horsepower than Midget cars.
“It’s basically a Cup car, except a few steps slower,” Lemke said.
All told, Lemke competed in over 30 events, both on asphalt and dirt tracks. That shows Lemke’s versatility as a talented driver who can adapt to different conditions. This past season was Lemke’s first full year in a Midget car, and he nearly won a triple crown in the Western USAC Midget Series, finishing second overall, second in the dirt series and third in the asphalt series in a scintillating rookie season.
Lemke’s favorite race was the Harvest Classic, a two-day event at Madera Speedway. Lemke swept Friday night qualifying, won the heat race and main event that same night and a day later was in contention to win the track race before a caution sent him to the back of the pack, leading to a fifth-place finish.
“No one has gotten close to sweeping the weekend at the Harvest Classic,” Lemke said. “Our car was fast enough to get it done, but it was just driver error that cost us.”
The 15-year-old Lemke is mature beyond his years. Race car drivers don’t like to admit when they cost themselves a potential win, but the ones who last long in the profession know how to take responsibility. And that’s exactly what Lemke has done in this instance.
“I’m very satisfied with our race team and what we accomplished this season,” Lemke said. “I just wanted to win Rookie of the Year going into the season and be competitive, but we completely overshot that by a mile. At the same time, I know I could’ve done better and there is room for improvement.”
Lemke had Tony Caputo as his crew chief for the Late Model car and Randy Chastain for the USAC Midget car. He said driver-crew chief communication is vital and often makes the difference in races.
“You can have the fastest car out there, but if you don’t have the relationship with the crew chief and spotter, you can easily turn into the slowest car out there,” Lemke said. “If you can’t trust your guy telling what’s ahead of you, behind you and around you, it’s going to be a tough day. The crew chief is that important—sometimes they’re driving for you and you’re just the one stepping on the gas pedal and turning left.”
Lemke plans on competing in approximately 40 races in the 2018 season, which means he’ll engage in independent studies for the opening semester of 2018. On the days Lemke will be away, he’ll have a session with a tutor via Skype to work on homework and get everything squared away in terms of his assignments and tests.
But he’ll still be on campus a couple of times a week, wanting to engage in normal everyday stuff that most teenagers take for granted.
“I still want to have the high school experience of going to dances and things like that,” Lemke said. “I’ll be able to make some dances if everything works out.”
On the track, Lemke plans on running the USAC Western Midget Series on both dirt and asphalt, along with the RPM Pro Mortgage Late Model Series at Madera Speedway and with Hawk McCall Motorsports in North Carolina.
“We’re going for the triple crown and all three championships in the midgets and late model series,” Lemke said.