Hello World it’s me, Colton Bettis
Sunshine State Racing Story
Saturday was the inaugural The Childrens Dream Fund 50 race at Citrus County Speedway in Inverness Florida. Promoter JJ Dutton did an amazing job of putting this race on. He was able to get it co-sanctioned with the BG Southern Sprint Car Series and Must-See Racing. He drew some of the biggest names in sprint car racing to come and compete. We had eventual winner Joe Ligori, Bobby Santos, Aaron Willison all the way from British Columbia, Davey Hamilton Jr, and Troy DeCaire just to name a few. Leading up to the weekend there was quite a buzz as we do not get that kind of field here very often.
For Colton Bettis, this would be the first time he would be able to measure himself up against the best in the business. For me, there were questions leading up to the race. How would the 14-year-old handle the pressure of driving against them? We all know the speed is there, but racing side by side with them is a whole different animal. These men have been racing sprint cars since before he was born.
Friday practice saw Colton near the top of the board on speed, and the weekend was off to a good start. As we merged into Saturdays one hour practice session, it was hot and greasy, so everyone’s times were a little off. Car chief Tra Pissot did a little experimenting with the set up. Results were not shared, but whatever they did, or didn’t do, Tra had the car in top form as usual. Colton Bettis Racing maintained pace with the front runners and looked to be in good shape headed to qualifying.
The BG series uses heat races and previous finishing positions to set the field for the feature, so qualifying was a pleasant change of pace for the Florida based teams and fans. American Racer was the tire for the weekend. They brought a great tire as usual. However, qualifying can be challenging for some on the tire as they do take a few extra laps to get to optimal temp, but then create great racing for the end of the feature due to lack of fall off. I personally liked that aspect of the session as I enjoyed watching the drivers alone on the track and seeing the different ways each driver approached the laps while attempting to put down a quick one. At the end of the session, Aaron Willison was on pole, and only 1/10 off the track record held by Keith Butler. Second was Davey Hamilton Jr, third Bobby Santos, fourth Brian Gerster and fifth Colton Bettis.
Willison rolled a dice for the invert and it landed on eight. After a beautiful 3 wide salute to the fans, we lost three cars to a warmup lap incident. With cleanup finished, we got the fellas refired and went green. Steven Hollinger started on pole after the invert and shot to the lead like a rocket, pulling to almost a straight away lead in clean air while the others battled for position. Unfortunately, on a lap 12 restart, he lost what he believes to be a shock and surrendered positions from there.
Joe Ligori and Colton Bettis found themselves at the front of the field and none of us knew what a battle we were about to see. One that many thought to be very unlikely headed into the race weekend. Not because of either driver, but due to their engines. Troy DeCaire told me prior to the weekend that a 410 would probably be needed to win this race, but someone may surprise us, and be stout because of the weight advantage of the smaller engine. Fast forward to the half way point of the feature, and we have two 360’s in the midst of a epic battle for $10,000. Over several restarts, the pair stayed glued to each other while creating separation from Santos and Willison.
With 20 laps to go we had two restarts. In between those, Ligori and Bettis battled like heavyweights in a championship fight. Ligori is a wise veteran that used all of his experience, and some tricks on restarts in an effort to hold the youngster off. While Bettis on the other hand, used every bit of knowledge and skill has has in his young career to try and get by for the top spot. With 10 laps to go, Bettis was able to get underneath Ligori entering three and the two made contact. Both settled back into their original positions. With a few laps to go Ligori felt the front bumper from Bettis letting him know he was still there. Joe later said that when he felt that, he had to really dig deep because he knows how good Colton is, and it was going to be tough to stay ahead of him. As the checkered flag flew, it was Joe Ligori who crossed the line first, by a scant margin of 0.155 seconds, the pair still glued together.
Speaking to Colton after the race, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with second place. I get that, he hates losing! He has that killer instinct. He wants to win every race he enters. It’s a fine quality in a driver with the skillset he possesses.
What I hope for Colton, is that over time he comes to realize what he actually did Saturday evening. Due to his age, there is a lot of negative chatter about him being in this car. People who have never seen him drive, or have never met him, say he shouldn’t be allowed to be in this car. Well, this weekend put a nail in that coffin. A coming out party if you will. On a nationally televised race, against the best winged sprint car drivers in the country, he finished ahead of all but one, and he did it with class, as he always does. Similar to his race in the midget at Anderson speedway, a track he had never driven, and a car he had never driven. He won that race while holding off the series points leader. I spoke to 4 drivers after the Dream race who said that without question, they would have moved the leader if they were in Colton’s position to win $10,000. But Colton didn’t do that. He threw everything he could at Ligori attempting to pass him cleanly. And Joe did not make it easy to do so! No hate on Joe, he “did what he had to do to win the race”.
I am a huge fan and supporter of Colton Bettis the race car driver. He does things in the car that makes my jaw drop, makes me look at the people around me and ask if they saw that. I am though, an even bigger fan of Colton Bettis the person. He is a great young man. He carries himself with class, grace, humility and dignity. I would rather see him lose races the way he did Saturday and finish second, than move someone and win. It made me proud of him, to have that much maturity, for some of his age. If you know him, you know he is a grown man trapped in a young mans body.
This race will from now on be my retort if I hear someone say he shouldn’t be in this car. If the stars align, the right opportunities preset themselves, he will become a generational talent. If you hear his name on the bill, go see him drive. But don’t stop there, get a pit pass, go meet him and talk to him. You will not be disappointed. I guarantee it. If you didn’t know, you do now. He is here to stay. He is coming for your trophy’s and your money!!