Monday, June 8, 2015
Cruz Skinner: A New Hope In Racing
Alabama has never been lacking in dirt racing talent which became extremely well know in the Allison Era and the Alabama Gang Era, and has continued trough the years, and carrying on that Alabama tradition is a young man so focused and so intent on seeing his dreams come true that you can't help but want to see him make all his dreams come true. Cruz Skinner at only 13 years old has quickly made a name for himself in the dirt track world. I began to notice when his name kept pooping up in all my social media and a friend from Alabama kept talking about him in such high regard. I already had liked the brightly colored number 11 since the number has always been lucky for me but the talent he had behind the wheel of that number 11 blew me away and the wins he was amassing with every trip to the track was becoming astonishing. I needed to talk to Cruz and get an idea on how he thinks and what drives him at such a young age. I was not let down. So young and so thoughtful in what and how he speaks it makes me wish he could be an ambassador for all young people in this sport. He doesn't speak in a way that makes you think he wants to tell you what he wants you to hear but more that he wants to be looked at respectfully by his peers and wants to make his family proud.
Cruz came into racing like a lot of people do, by being born into it. His dad, Greg Skinner, a racer in his own day, and his granddad, G.T. Skinner, used to bring Cruz to the track since Cruz was born. Greg eventually retired from racing to focus on other more important aspects in life like his family and being a father and husband but racing never left him and he continued to go to the races as a fan with his father and little Cruz. Cruz remembers going to Green Valley, Talladega and Winchester as a small child and at that young age he first remembers watching and noticing how drivers would make their moves on the track. How they were passing each other and how they were moving up and down the track and it had him hooked. His first dirt track racing hero was and still is to this day, Ronnie Johnson. Ronnie wouldn't be up that way every week but when he was Cruz was paying attention and always noticed how Ronnie had patience on the track.
At 5 years old his dad asked him if he wanted to race and I'll bet you can guess what his answer was. Cruz was then put into a go kart and his debut was to be at the Talladega go kart track but unfortunately a soccer accident left him with a broken arm and his first race had to be postponed for 6-8 weeks. Then one day in mid November, which happened to be the first cold day of the season, Cruz came to a different track and looking at the concession stand asked his dad if he could have an ice cream if he won. Note it was about 40 degrees that night. A deal was made that night and Cruz ended his first night with an ice cream and a trophy. Cruz continued to race for 5 years in karts and he and his dad decided it was time to move up. The next move was to the hot shot series which is a 6 cylinder car straight off the street and a roll cage added in. The first year was a lot of second and third place finishes and a learning curve, but the second year, Cruz hit his stride and won an astonding 26 races at Talladega and Green Valley and at that time they decided to buy a Honda Civic and race asphalt at Montgomery Speedway.
To show just how much his dedication and his father's dedication to the sport is you should know they would go to Montgomery and race asphalt during the day and pack up and head to the dirt track in the same day. No complaining or whining from Cruz, just focusing on his dream and making it come true. After 2 years of Hot Shots they decided to move up yet again to where he is today. The crate late models. Cruz began with a few test sessions and realized it was much different going from a 6 cylinder to a crate late model but apparently it didn't take him long to catch on. The first crate race was at Talladega short track and ready to make his debut, Cruz started 6th, got to 3rd but jumped the cushion on the restart and fell back to 8th and drove his way all the way back to 3rd. How is that for someone so young and only his first time out in the crate? Pretty impressive if you ask me. His first ten races were learning curves but that 11th race brought that first win. The 11th race brought the number 11 his win. I'm a big believer in fate and that seemed like a fated night for sure for Skinner.
Another major accomplishment for Cruz to add to his list is that he was selected by the state of Alabama for their "Click it or ticket" campaign. Putting Cruz on billboards and in commercials it has brought awareness to a whole new younger audience the importance of safety and being in one of the most dangerous sports there is, Cruz take the issue of safety seriously. He says he is extremely honored the great state of Alabama chose him to be their spokesperson. His Director of Public/ Media Relations, Mark Ponds, got Cruz involved with the campaign and it has hopefully saved someone's life. Cruz understands the outreach he can have to a younger crowd to try to get them to see how important it is to buckle up. It's a lot of responsibility but Cruz carries it so easily along with school and every other facet of his life. Going into high school this year he says school has always came first. Nothing in racing comes before getting his responsibilities with school done first and then it's off to the shop to clean and help with the car. It seems like it can be so hard for someone so young but listening to Cruz, he has everything in his life in the correct perspective and knows what must be done first.
With the responsibilities of school there are others to help lighten the load in his racing. His dad has always been there to get the car ready and his crew chief U.B. McFadden makes sure the car is prepared and ready to go and Doug McKenzie and Tim Spears are also there for support. When I asked Cruz what racing has taught him, his response was "responsibility". It's taught him to manage his time and take care of his equipment and school work. A lot of his hero Ronnie Johnson has rubbeed off on him also. He says Ronnie is always classy and always knows how to handle himself on and off the track. Cruz has big dreams for his future and is concentrating with making that happen one step at a time. He runs the NeSmith weekly points series and it is his major focus to win the points right now and to run for the top of the NeSmith Young Gun Challenge which is set up by NeSmith for drivers 18 and under. He's currently running his 604 crate but also has a CT525 he can run. Checking this past weekend for Talladega, Cruz won his feature and is making good on those dreams each week.
Cruz wants what a lot of young drivers want, to end up in Nascar and watching Cruz and talking with him, I feel pretty certain he will not stop until he makes it to the top. He has everything you want to see in Nascar, loads of talent, the knowledge that he is representing himself and his sponsors at all times, and the ability to know how to juggle life's demands. So many young people out there constantly in trouble or with no idea of responsibility and here we have someone at the young age of 13 who takes care of business at school, at the races, and respresents an entire state in one of the most important campaigns the state runs. He is truly amazing and if you get a chance go out and check him out at the races and know that when he hits the track he is keeping the Alabama racing legend alive and here is someone who has a dream and will work harder than anyone to see it comes true. I hope everything comes true for you Cruz and with your tenacity I know that one day I will be seeing your name racing on the high banks of Nascar. You keep hope alive in a younger generation for me and for many others, and I hope you always do. We all are rooting for you. There is no limit to this kid and we can all take a lesson from him in hope, determination and where our dreams can take us.