East graduate looking for breakout season

Zak Blackwood has been racing since he was 9 years old. Now 21, the Columbus resident will be trying to put a disappointing 2014 racing season behind him as he embarks on an ambitious dirt late-model schedule for this year beginning March 14 at Brownstown Speedway.

A highly successful go-kart racer from the first time he sat behind the wheel of one back in 2002. He was a two-time Southern Indiana Racing Association Champion. He also twice won the prestigious World Karting Association (WKA) title. He won races on dirt, asphalt and road courses, totaling nearly 100 victories over a four-year time span.

“Our biggest win in go-karts was in Tunica, Misssissippi. It was on ESPN. We won a couple of other races that were broadcast on what was then Speed Channel and the Outdoor Channel,” said Blackwood, a 2012 graduate of Columbus East High School.

Blackwood’s first time in a full-body late model was in 2007, when he ran in the crate division. He immediately made an impact finishing third in his first-ever race.

He would compete the last half of that season. He moved into the super late-model division in 2010. His first career victory came that year at Whitewater Valley Speedway in Liberty.

In 2009, he made history by becoming the youngest driver to ever start Brownstown Speedway’s Jackson 100, the track’s biggest event. He was just 15 years old at the time and made the race driving a crate car.

Blackwood thought that record might hold for a long-time. But it didn’t. Just a year later, 14-year-old Tyler Reddick made the race, displacing Blackwood as the youngest starter in the history of the event.

Yes, the same Tyler Reddick that two weeks ago won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona.

Blackwood might not be racing today if it wasn’t for the late Mike Burton. Burton, a Columbus native and longtime racing fan, came to the rescue of Blackwood and his father when Zak flipped a car at Brownstown during a Summernationals race in 2008.

“He bought us a brand-new C.J. Rayburn Race Car after I flipped the one we had,” Blackwood said. “I don’t think we would be doing what we are doing today without Mike’s help.”

He was a great man and race fan. Burton passed away from health issues on Oct. 30, 2012.

“I will never forget that day,” Blackwood said. “I went to see him in the hospital; we just talked about racing and life, and just a few hours after I left, he was gone.”

Blackwood and his father thought they were ready to go for a successful 2014 season. But in the end it was a season that the Blackwood’s’ would soon want to forget.

“We found out the car we had bought had the fuel-cell installed backwards,” Blackwood said. “We thought we were having fuel pick-up problems. We had Russ Petro come over and work on the carburetor, we checked all the lines and everything appeared to be working properly, but with the way the fuel cell was installed it was having trouble pulling fuel out.”

Blackwood made his first appearance at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, last year. That’s where he started to have problems.

“It really showed up at Eldora,” Blackwood said. “That is obviously a fast racetrack, and the car just wouldn’t run. We came back here and ran a few shows, and it just wasn’t running up to par. We decided to park the car for a while. One day, my dad went out in the shop and went through everything again, and that’s when he found the fuel cell issue.”

Blackwood’s full-time job during the week is at Cummins Engine Company, where he is a technician support specialist. Working second shift this past year limited Blackwood’s race schedule, but a switch to first-shift in a few months will allow him to race more on Friday nights this summer. He hopes to continue to branch out to tracks such as Eldora and Florence, along with competing locally at Brownstown and Twin Cities.

“We are going to try and hit some of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events within a reasonable driving distance,” Blackwood said. “With my work schedule changing, we will be able to race more, and we also want to do a many television events as we can, as well.”

Several of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series events are broadcast on MAV-TV, a network owned by Lucas Oil.

Blackwood’s crew for the 2015 racing season will include his father Jeremy, Colton Lucas and Donnie Miller.