Darren Hardesty Jr. isn't very good at following a plan. It could be because he's young (he turned 15 on August 31).
It could be because he has his own ideas about the way things should be done. Or it simply could be because it didn't take long for everyone to realize that change was in order.
The plan was for Hardesty to spend this year learning to drive a Pro Buggy well by racing at the regional level. But, he said, after he started the season with a third and two wins “we just said what the heck, why not go out there and start doing the big races, and we liked it and just kept going.”
Flash forward seven months. Three rounds remain in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series presented by GEICO and the third-generation driver is a race winner, a longshot contender for the class title and a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year honors.
Hardesty is fifth in the point standings, 49 behind leader Garrett George, but with four people between him and the top spot the championship probably is out of reach. Still, the high school sophomore from Ramona, California, got his first victory at Utah in June and has finished in the top five in seven of the past eight races to prove that sometimes changing plans isn't a bad idea.
Hardesty said he thinks his driving talent is “in the blood,” passed on to him by grandfather Earl Hardesty and father Darren, both prominent desert racers with Baja 1000 wins to their credit. But the youngest Hardesty does admit he's “definitely surprised” at the team's success this season.
“That's (surprised) a really good word for it,” he said. “We knew eventually we'd kind of work our way up there, maybe next season or two seasons from now, but we didn't expect to be this far so soon.”
Much of Hardesty's youth was spent in the pits or a chase vehicle for the long-distance desert races with his father and grandfather and there never was any question in his mind that he would follow them into the sport.
That happened in 2010, when Hardesty raced in the final event of the season for Junior 1 Karts. The next season he made three podium appearances and finished sixth in the Junior 1 class and in 2012 he had three wins and was third in Junior 1 and six podiums en route to fifth in Junior 2 Karts. Then came two seasons in Modified Karts with modest results and the decision to climb another rung on the ladder in a career that has gotten some interesting reactions from the classmates and teachers of the young man known as “HotSauce.”
“I don't think most of my friends from school understand what kind of stuff this is and how hard it is to get here, but they're kind of getting into it,” he said. “The teachers don't like it; they don't like me leaving (for an event). I told them 'well, you're just going to kind of have to suck it up, this is my life.'”
Hardesty will explore all the options before deciding what path his life will follow, but off road racing will be a part of it. He said he wants to try desert racing, but he also wants to work his way up to a Pro 2 or Pro 4 truck, or maybe both, in short course, and racing on challenging courses in front of enthusiastic spectators seems to hold a special place in his heart.
“That's what I like about it,” he said. “After a couple of laps you really get a feel for the track and that's when you can shine. You really start to get comfortable in the car and you realize I can handle this and I can run with these guys and all those things.
“I'm not really interested in other racing. The thing I like mainly is being able to slide and doing all the jumps and stuff. I know in some forms of drifting you can do that, but I don't think it would have the same spark. Doing this really gets to me.
“It's my life, it's everything I know. It's what I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. I definitely wouldn't give it up.”
Darren Hardesty Jr. At A Glance
Age: 15 (31 August 2000)
Lives in: Ramona, California
Marital status: Single
Occupation: Student, race car driver
Car number: 99 Pro Buggy
Type of chassis: Alumi Craft
Engine: GM Ecotec
Crew Chief: Darren Hardesty
Sponsors: Competitive Metals; Alumi Craft; BILSTEIN Shocks; Mickey Thompson Tires; Lucas Oil; Fortin Racing; Spy
Years in racing: 6
Divisions raced: Lucas Oil Off Road Pro Buggy, Modified Karts, Junior 1 Karts, Junior 2 Karts, Mini-Dwarfs, Dwarfs, Super Karts
Series points standings: 7 Mod Kart (2014); 18 Mod Kart (2013); 5 Junior 2, 3 Junior 1 (2012); 6 Junior 1 (2011); 29 Junior 1 (2010)