Scott Mayer was dropping off his son, Sam, last month in North Carolina. Sam would spend much of his summer there, 850 miles from his home in Franklin, racing stock cars, building a career and … well … turning 15.
“I said, ‘It’s good to be Sam Mayer,’ ” Scott said.
“He looks at me and goes, ‘Dad, I do get it. It’s actually great to be Sam Mayer.’ ”
Yep. Sam gets it.
With some of the best people in the stock-car business behind him – a fact he repeats often – Sam is on a trajectory through the cutthroat business that would be the envy of any promising driver. He has shown an uncanny ability to move from one level to the next with no sign of inexperience, and each of those steps has been laid out in front of him.
“I definitely pick up on it pretty quick,” Sam said, not wanting to seem immodest.
“I’ve got everyone around me that they know what they’re doing so I really don’t have any excuse to not do great. But we’re definitely doing pretty good. I feel pretty confident in what we have this year.”
Almost from the time he could sit up, Sam showed hints he would race, Scott said, grabbing the steering wheel of a toy boat when he was 1 and then mastering his little electric toy Corvette – top speed, about 3 mph – not long after.
When Sam saw his father and his buddies racing go-karts on the track Scott build on his property, he wanted to try too. So Scott bought him a kiddie kart.
“The right foot is gas, the left foot’s brake. We told him that, the basics,” Scott said.
“I put him in the go-kart and I said, ‘Now go around easy and I’m going to follow you around in the golf cart.’ He took off at full speed, didn’t spin out and left my mom and I in the dust in the golf cart. That was the beginning of the end.”
Sam was 4.
Scott caught his breath and then decided to get serious. Before long Sam was competing with the Badger Kart Club in Dousman. And by the time he was 11, Scott was taking him to Charlotte, N.C., the heart of NASCAR country.
Scott had made a handful of starts in IndyCar, Indy Lights and sports cars and Sam had spent his pre-teen years on asphalt road courses in karting, but Sam very quickly realized he wanted to concentrate on stock cars.
Scott met with Lorin Ranier, a veteran of the NASCAR industry who runs a development program, and Ranier’s connection with Sam was instant.
“We knew as a junior karter he was one of the best in the country,” Ranier said. “It’s just, would that talent translate over to oval racing and cars?
“He last year was ‘Young Lions’ national champion in Legends. So he translated really well into that.”
Last year he made his debut in limited late model cars, becoming the youngest winner in the history of Greensville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, and he also won his first race in the Midwest Truck Series at Dells Motor Speedway, one of the few races he has run in his home state.
“Each step I have people behind me that know what they’re doing,” Mayer said. “I’m comfortable. I get comfortable, and then we’re on to the next thing. I’ve just got to have fun and do well and do the best I can.”
For this season, Ranier placed Mayer with JR Motorsports – owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister Kelley – for a full season in the CARS Late Model Tour. His best finish in seven starts has been a third place.
To start off the year, Mayer also made his debut in a super-late model in the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. The series runs six nights in Florida and is a gathering from drivers from around the country. Mayer finished second overall, losing the title to Stephen Nasse on the final night.
“He has what you really can’t teach in a young driver, and that’s just that outright speed,” Ranier said. “He can go fast in anything, anywhere we take him in any kind of car.”
Although limited in his racing options because of his age, Mayer has been able to test ARCA and NASCAR K&N Series cars, which are closer in power and weight to those used in the NASCAR national series.
According to Scott Mayer, Sam’s first lap in an ARCA car at Iowa Speedway was within two-tenths of a second of that turned by series winner Zane Smith moments earlier and he outran his coach in a K&N car at Greensville-Pickens Speedway.
“It’s either make it or break it. Right now we’re pretty much making it,” Sam said. “It’s a lot of fun, too. That’s my main goal, to have fun. That’ll carry over to having success.”
Mayer turned 15 last week, which will allow him to race in the larger cars at bigger tracks. His schedule includes six K&N races and two ARCA races, beginning Saturday at Iowa.
“We’ll give him enough foundation that when he does move up into the truck series and Xfinity cars he’ll be ready for that,” Ranier said.
“If he needs a little more time at a certain level, then we’ll give him more time. It’s not like we’re on some rapid pace here. We just want to move him along and do it the right way.”
In addition to driving for top teams in every division, Mayer also has the marketing support necessary to help build a career. The path is set for him; it’s just a matter of staying on it.
“This year we’re working on a lot of deals and there’s a lot of stuff in the works,” he said. “If I keep doing what I’m doing, it’ll work out.
“I want to go to the Cup someday. Right now we’re on the track for doing that, for sure.”
So, yes, it’s good to be Sam Mayer.