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Veteran racer moves up to modifieds
by Dan McGee
Jan 10, 2010 | 1344 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee - Jay Sears stands outside of his Stead home. After campaigning a pro stock for the past several seasons, he's moving up into an IMCA Modified this year.
Tribune/Dan McGee - Jay Sears stands outside of his Stead home. After campaigning a pro stock for the past several seasons, he's moving up into an IMCA Modified this year.
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Tribune/Dan McGee - This season Jay Sears won't be in his familiar red #68 pro stock as he's moving into the IMCA Modified ranks.
Tribune/Dan McGee - This season Jay Sears won't be in his familiar red #68 pro stock as he's moving into the IMCA Modified ranks.
slideshow
RENO - Over the past few seasons, both Jay Sears and Travis Petersen have been either winners or contenders in the Pro Stock ranks. This year both are moving into the IMCA Modified division.

Sears, like many racers, has been around or competing in some form of wheeled competition for most of his 28 years.

"I started out in BMX when I was 10," he said. "I raced on the national schedule and competed for six years back east in Kentucky and Ohio. My dad used to fly me out there all the time."

His final year on the bikes, Sears rode in 16 Expert and finished 14th in the nation. Then things changed when his father, Brian Sears, sent his son on a new racing path.

"I grew up in Hawthorne and he told me it would be cheaper to race cars than bikes," Sears said. "So I sold my bike and bought my first set of tires for my race car with the money."

Sears' first taste of oval racing was in 1998 at the now defunct track in Hawthorne.

"We had a street stock class, which was mainly all Camaros and some Monte Carlos," he said. "The motors were pretty much like we run in the pro stock class and they were pretty healthy. They were full body cars and we had 10-inch tires back then."

The track was known for its high banks, which Sears loved. And running the rim was the key to winning there.

"I loved the track and the only place to run was way up on the highline. If you ran anywhere but there, you weren't going to win," he said.

Of course before he got into a car Sears, with a youngster's confidence, told his father he would whip the competition. His dad then told him it wasn't as easy as it looked.

"So when I went out there I had a lot to prove to my dad but I also had a lot of help from him," he said. "The first car I had he set it up for me, had it on the scales and most don't get to start out like that."

Sears was true to his word winning his very first race, finishing second in the points and got Rookie-of-the-Year in his first season. He raced the next two years until 1999 when he enlisted in the Army for a four-year tour.

While stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, his father brought the racecar out to him.

"Street stocks out there are almost like IMCA competition," he said. "They'd be open wheel in the front as they knocked off the fenders. It was a lot more serious as some guys came in with stacker trailers and they raced petty much all week long."

Due to being in the Army, Sears was only able to compete for half a season.

At that time he was a mechanic for the 4th Infantry Division, and worked on their tanks. They had some at the ready and would send them out as a replacement when needed.

When he was in Iraq, his group rotated a good tank for one that needed repair then exchange it back when the work was completed. Coming back from overseas, Sears spent his final two years at Ft. Hood.

Coming home in 2004, he spent the next two years working as a mechanic at a mine for Round Mountain Gold.

"When I got back I told my dad that I wanted to go racing again," he said. "By then the street stock class had evolved into the pro stock class. In fact the car I have now is an old late model my dad raced."

Sears explained that over the past decade Late Models have evolved to a very different animal than when his father raced them. Now they use 4-bar rear suspension and have over 800 horsepower motors.

Pro Stocks, on the other hand, are less refined and a simpler machine. The car Sears has driven for the past several seasons has a Camaro front clip and even though it was built in 1993, it's been very competitive.

His first season and a half was a steep learning curve as the car had been converted from coil to leaf springs, which changed its handling characteristics.

"That first year was pretty rough because, while we finished every race, we weren't winning," he said.

Half way through the next season Bill Pearson Sr., from Sierra Valley Truss, asked if he could help. In addition to paying Sears some money they had him bring the car to their shop in Portola where it was scaled, got a new rear end, springs, new body and motor.

"After they helped me full time we went out the next year and won 18 out of 23 races between Fernley, Quincy and Fallon," he said. "We actually won 13 in a row at Fallon and won the championship there two years in a row in 2006 and 2007. There's no way we'd be as competitive without those guys from Sierra Truss."

After running his familiar red pro stock since 2005, Sears is poised to take the next step. The coming season he'll be in an IMCA Modified.

"The reason why I want to go to the Modifieds is that I feel Pro Stocks is a dying class," he said. "To be competitive you've got to have a lot of money, more than in a Modified. I think that's why a lot of guys are getting out because we don't have limitations on motor size, so we can run a roller motor and other things.

"So you can take a modified, put about the same amount of money in it, go out there, be competitive and race with twice the field. My reason is mainly the competition as usually it's me and Travis just fighting each other and while it's still fun but it can get boring sometimes."

He feels that racing a modified will allow him to compete with eight or nine fast cars every race. And competition is something that most racing drivers live for.

The modified Sears bought was campaigned last year by Jesse Gonzalez. It's a D&M chassis and uses a four-bar suspension, which allows for more grip in the corners and contributes to a "three-wheel" style of cornering.

"Jesse only raced it for a year and a half and I drove it at Lovelock when I was there," he said. "Jesse knew I was looking to buy a car so he said, 'jump in there and drive it,' and it was a nice car. It just rotates through the center real nice and I fell in love with it."

The car itself is a roller so it's complete except for the engine and transmission. And after the car arrives at the shop in Portola, it will also get a new body.

The differences between a pro stock and modified are usually seen in cornering. Not to mention cost savings due to IMCA's motor claim rule.

"I think modifieds get out of the corner a bit quicker but as far as straight away speeds, they're pretty similar," he said. "Last year I ran a 383 in the pro stock and this year I'll run a 350. And I think I'm just going to go between Quincy and Fallon."

While he's had success at Fallon the track's tire rule kept him at Quincy.

"We couldn't race Dirt Boss tires at Rattlesnake and we just couldn't afford two sets of tires," he said. "We've pretty much stuck with the Dirt Boss as they are a lot better, more forgiving, more fun to race with and more competitive. That's the only reason we didn't race at Fallon."

Like virtually all small time racers, Sears has a day job where he runs the dayshift service department for the Peterbuilt dealership. And he added the sport will would a hobby.

"Racing's been in my family forever and I think everyone has done," he said. "My dad raced 20 plus years but he quit when I started and he's had more fun helping me than he ever did driving. My mom Debbie actually raced a powder puff race, hated it but my dad pretty much forced her into it and she ended up winning the race."

His brother Jake also tried racing but quit after about a year and a half. Now days his father comes from Hawthorne to help Sears whenever he races.

He also gets additional support from his number one sponsor, Sierra Valley Truss as well as Western Central Petroleum, Pearson Racing Equipment as well as Swofford Machine.

In his rooting section beside his father are wife Jamie and young daughter Payton, who enjoys watching her father on the track.

Although he doesn't like working on his car while at the track, Sears enjoys the companionship and competition he finds there. And he travels with a group of local racers whose numbers will increase this year.

"We've got a good little racing family going with me and Travis. We go with Dave and Adam Walters as well as Bill Pearson Jr.," he said. "We pretty much go everywhere together as a little clique and park together. But the best part are the friendships you build as well as going out and having good, clean, competitive racing."

This year the group will grow as Gene Kay returns to the modifieds, as well as rookie Cody Kay, a four-time national karting champion.

When he's at a track, Sears not only tries to figure out how his car is doing but will watch other racers to see how they are handling the changing conditions. Unlike those that race on asphalt, a driver competing on dirt faces constantly changing conditions.

Asked about the upcoming season in his new ride, Sears said, "I can't wait. It's going to be a fun year."

For this veteran this year will be full of changes and new challenges.
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