KNOXVILLE, Ill. -- Most kids grow up playing sports their father taught them, but very few participate in the sport Knoxville's Zach Lewis does -- especially at his age.
At just 11 years old, Lewis has three years' experience as a drag racer, competing in local tournaments before this past weekend, when he entered the Junior Drag Racing Eastern Finals at Thunder Valley Dragway in Bristol, Tenn. With more than 600 cars competing, Lewis finished third in his age bracket and took home the best reaction time award with a perfect start.
"It's been a pretty cool week for us," Lewis said.
And it should only get better as Lewis and his family will travel to Eddyville, Iowa, this weekend to compete in the Division 5 championship.
"This past week we got to the semifinals and that is not good enough," Zach's father, Mark, said with a laugh. "We have some unfinished business to take care of."
Realistically, Zach Lewis has already accomplished a great deal in his three years behind the wheel. When he reached the age restriction of eight years old, he competed in a major event that very weekend. He finished second to a 16-year-old.
This past weekend, Lewis went up against drivers with professional sponsors and unlimited resources and finished third.
"It's pretty amazing what he accomplished without those sponsors and the money that comes along with it," Mark Lewis said. "That's a big part of it and he kept winning despite that."
But the Lewises are no amateur production either. The family has been in the racing business for more than 40 years with Zach's grandfather competing in pro drag racing in the early 70s. Mark Lewis did some racing of his own before starting up his business -- Bolin's Towing in Galesburg. Now, he has passed on his car and racing knowledge to his son and daughter, Bryna.
"My dad was into racing and my sister had a junior drag car that she didn't want to race so I took over," Zach Lewis said. "That's what got me into it. From there on out it's been smooth sailing."
Unlike most 8-year-olds, traditional sports never really piqued Zach's interest. He tried baseball for a while, but ultimately decided to stick to racing.
"I choose drag racing. It's the best sport," Lewis said. "Football and baseball, those sports are only for a few months, but drag racing is pretty much all year long."
But the sport does come with some risks and hurdles. The financial and time commitments are always present, not to mention the dangers each time Lewis steps into his car. At last week's race, speeds were reaching 75 miles per hour in just 660 feet and his car fell on its side a few weeks earlier, but Mike and Gayle Lewis said it's just part of growing up and trying new things.
"Every sport has its risks," Mike Lewis said. "That's what makes it a sport. If there weren't any risks involved it wouldn't be fun. But we make sure to take every precaution necessary."
While the high speeds are a thrill for Mark and Zach, both agreed there are many other benefits to drag racing than simply the race. That includes the preparation, which provides plenty of father-son time as the Lewises do all the engine work on their cars themselves.
"It's great way to spend time with your kid," Mike Lewis said. "And unlike other sports, it's not time spent with a whole team. It's a one-on-one kind of deal. It's pretty cool."
Zach Lewis' favorite part of the sport may have nothing to do with the cars itself.
"The kids you meet are great sports," he said. "Every time you are done with a race, you get out of your car and shake hands. You can meet a ton of people everyday. It's awesome."
And Zach should have plenty of time to meet new people this weekend at the District 5 tournament, but he does have one other goal in mind.
"I want to go fast and win a trophy," he said.
Based on his track record, the fast part shouldn't be an issue.