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Busy NAU student/racer adept at shifting gears
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Busy NAU student/racer adept at shifting gears

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You’re rounding the third turn going somewhere north of 100 miles per hour, protected by a lump of twisted metal, and all of a sudden, you wonder.

Did I turn in my homework?

This is Dylan Cappello’s life. Racing toward a potential future as a race car driver on the weekends. Racing between classes during the week.

He is a freshman at Northern Arizona University and the reigning Lucas Oil Modified Series champion. How’s that for a résumé? He’ll join more than two dozen slashes on Saturday at the starting line for the Geico Arizona Shoot Out at Tucson Speedway.

What exactly are slashes? Slashes are guys like Pat Petrie of Henderson, Nevada, a race car driver slash program specialist for the state health and human services department. Slashes are guys like Jason Patison, the 2006 Lucas Oil Modified Series champion slash television programming director. Shelby Stroebel owns a construction business in Idaho; two-time champion Jason Mardis doubles as a UPS driver.

And like Cappello, Colby Potts is a college student, balancing books and bolts, albeit at Arizona State.

This is duality at its finest.

“I’ve been racing since I was probably 4 years old — it’s always been a big part of my life — but going to school, you have to balance life out,” Cappello said. “You have to keep it around fifty-fifty.”

To his credit, and probably his parents’ delight, it might even be sixty-forty, tilted toward college life.

Cappello is 19 years old, a mechanical engineering major. He loves the outdoors, fishing, hunting. He is from Phoenix but loves Flagstaff.

When he was 5, he made a life call, a big one. He ditched the ice hockey rink for the track. It was a weighty decision. So what if he was just off a Big Wheel?

His dad, Daniel, was a driver, too, a gearhead. That’s how Dylan caught the bug. He hasn’t been able to shake it yet.

He spends much of Monday through Thursday as your average student, albeit probably with more grease under his fingernails. He often misses Fridays for race preparation, and his weekends are almost solely devoted to the sport he loves.

“I love doing this,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love doing it. I have an end goal in mind.”

Ah, there’s the rub.

It’s easy to wonder what keeps guys going on the fringes of professional sports, when the big leagues look a million miles away, when every sponsor’s dollar is worth its weight in gasoline.

It’s the dream. Cappello has been alive less than two decades, and he has been doing this a decade-and-a-half. Three quarters of his life, he has put into this. Every tinker of every tweak of every twist of every nut and every bolt. He’s chasing something.

“With the success, I have a lot of people behind me,” Cappello said. “My parents, that keeps me going. Being right there, you know? There’s always talk about what we could do next year.”

Cappello has it plotted out. After this, he says, there’s E Series, which is televised, and a lot of people from there make it to NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. All he needs is a few more wins, a few more smiles, a few more sponsors.

“With the win last year, I gained exposure, people know about me more. … Half the sport is who you know,” Cappello said. “Who you know and who they know. You run into somebody, and you have to be presentable, talk nicely; it’s a big part of it. It’s about getting lucky. Talent isn’t gonna get you all the way there nowadays.”

He gets it. He understands the game. Smart kid. Mechanical engineering major and all.

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