When Harry Voigt wanted to explain in his college application essay which life experiences helped reshape how he defines himself — from a little boy with dyslexia thinking “I was stupid” to a fearless natural on the racetrack — Voigt took his readers out of the stands and behind the wheel with him.
“My eyes are focusing on the checkered flag, and it feels like I am approaching in a jet. Engine roaring loud and the smell of burning rubber as I tear around the last corner. I see all the different colored shirts of the fans and hands waving with cameras,” he wrote.
The fans get louder. He feels the wind funnel up his helmet, “cooling my sweaty head.” His hands ache, and he “can barely hold the wheel much longer.”
“I see the flag getting bigger and bigger, and then in the blink of an eye, it is gone. The engine grows quiet, the speed drops, and my excitement takes off,” he wrote.
Heat rises from the track and fans hush as he transitions into a cool-down lap. His hands “feel as if someone was beating on them with a hammer,” and his “nose is filled with the strong smell of gasoline.”
“I think to myself, wow, I just won my first professional race at Circuit of Americas in Austin, Texas,” he wrote.
That’s far from his only title. In September, the 20-year-old from Lone Tree took home second place at the National Auto Sport Association’s 2021 Spec Miata National Championships held at Daytona International Speedway. He placed first in the Teen Mazda Challenge.
“It was so thrilling,” said Voigt’s mother, Pamela. “Continual goosebumps.”
Racing at Daytona was a bucket list opportunity. The famous track is known for its long straightaways where drafting is crucial, Voigt said. For that reason, having a drafting partner is ideal. One car trailing another closely can increase the drivers’ speed by several miles per hour.
“It’s just physics,” Voigt said.
In a series of practice sessions and qualifying events for the national championships, Voigt placed well, staying among the top 10. But he had trouble finding another driver to team up with, which left him to fend for himself come race time.
As the championship event got underway, Voigt hung just outside the top eight drivers, he said.
“I was having to drive the absolute hell out of the car to keep up with them,” he said.
The championships epitomized how strategy and fate both come into play during a race, Voigt said. A crash took two cars out and Voigt closed the gap on the fifth. He focused on staying consistent and not making mistakes in his driving, he said. Then another car was hit by debris and had to pull off.
“This stuff just sucks, I don’t want to see that,” Voigt said.
Despite rising in the ranks, Voigt was still without a partner, trying to keep pace with leading drivers. Then another driver, Matt Cresci, slowed just enough for Voigt to catch up. Finally, he had found his partner.
“We took off and we charged all the way to second or third in a lap or two,” he said.
A three-car breakaway ensued. As the whirlwind race came to a close, Voigt and Cresci chased lead driver Preston Pardus. Pardus ultimately took first. Voigt trailed by less than a second, and secured runner-up.
After races, crews disassemble winning cars, pulling out the engine looking for any signs a competitor cheated. The intent is for each car to be equally matched so that the “race comes down to the driver,” Voigt said.
During his inspection, techs discovered Voigt’s transmission had been on the brink of blowing but managed to hold up — another piece of luck that went in Voigt’s favor.
“I shouldn’t have been able to finish the race,” he said.
The now 20-year-old who poured his love of racing onto the page speaks with just as much passion for the sport in conversation.
“I’ve learned so much about myself in racing,” he said.
He was 17 at the time of his first professional win, but his love for the sport was sparked years earlier, when his father took him to a go-kart track around age 10. As he wrote in his essay, school had been difficult for him with not only a dyslexia diagnosis but ADHD as well.
Racing was different. Speed didn’t scare him, and he quickly picked up the art of racing.
“Being an inch off the ground, not even exaggerating, going 90 in a go-kart,” he said. “You feel the G-forces.”
He went to local tracks on weekends for fun, eventually catching the attention of an employee who told his dad he saw raw talent in the young speedster. The man suggested investing in a kart.
At age 12, his parents did just that. Voigt had been working hard in school, they said, and as a reward they surprised him with his own set of wheels.
Voigt began competing throughout Colorado around age 14, often alongside adults, and almost immediately won competitions. His room in the basement of his family home boasts shelves brimming with trophies and walls lined with memorabilia.
The room is also where he gets in much of his practice time, using a software program hooked up to a mock race car rig. Real track time is expensive. So is the entire sport.
Travel. Vehicle maintenance. Race entry fees. Voigt doesn’t get paid to race, but thanks to sponsors he doesn’t pay to race, either. Practicing from home helps him stay competitive without some of the financial burden, he said.
At home, he climbs through the narrow gap between the seat and steering wheel and sits there for hours before a competition, racing on the screen and getting virtual coaching from a mentor who emails him notes.
“The seat, the pedal and the wheel are pretty much right off a race car,” he said.
A lifelong passion
Racing teaches his son valuable life lessons, like handling pressure and being put on the spot, Voigt’s father, Brian, said. Thinking back to the September national championships, Brian said he and Pamela “always knew Harry was capable of that level of competition.”
“How many times did you hear me say, ‘You’re as fast as these guys,’” Brian said to Voigt. “I’m not sure Harry always believed it.”
Voigt would love to race as a career, but he’s also staying focused on earning his degree. He’s now studying business at Lynn University in Florida. Whatever the future holds, “racing will always be a part of my life,” he said.
“It just seems like a part of me,” he said.
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