15-year-old finds ‘wheel’ excitement on the track



Eric Gunderson has raced competitively for more than five years. He’s won dozens of races and placed in the top tier in dozens more. But Eric is not yet old enough to legally hold a California driver’s license.

In fact, Eric, 15, says he has little time to pursue a learner’s permit.

He just finished his freshman year at La Jolla High School, where he is an honor student. He has a racing schedule that requires him to travel approximately 30 weeks a year to races sometimes hundreds of miles away. This year, Eric is racing three cars prepared at three shops, in three racing series.

Eric began racing at 11, shortly after his family attended a race sponsored by the San Diego Karting Association at the now-closed El Cajon Speedway.

‘Fun, challenging’

“It was something that looked fun and challenging,” Eric said. “I saw something that kids my age were doing, and I wanted to do it, too.”

From the beginning, Eric’s parents were encouraging. In fact, they are very involved in their son’s racing career. His parents help coordinate and schedule his races. His father is also his crew chief, and his mother videotapes all his races.

Eric raced karts for three years before moving on to Legends car racing. Karting is often a steppingstone to higher and more expensive ranks of motorsports.

Legends cars are a style of race car designed to encourage exciting racing and keep costs low. Yamaha motorcycle engines power the cars, designed after American automobiles from the 1930s and 1940s.

Changing cars

This year, Eric has had limited races in Legends cars and began United States Auto Club (USAC) Ford Focus midget racing on pavement and dirt tracks. The midgets use the core engine from the Ford Focus passenger car.

“Racing has built a lot of confidence in me and made a lot of other experiences easier on me,” Eric said.

Despite his success and hectic schedule, Eric remains humble and grounded, according to those who know him.

Jim Essex, Eric’s English teacher at La Jolla High School, describes him as very understated and an excellent student with a dry wit.

Modesty a rare trait

“He came in at the beginning of the year beyond his age,” Essex said. “He’s modest about his accomplishments. None of it has gone to his head, which is rare in a high school student.”

Eric has ambitions of racing professionally in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and being top tier someday. He was named Rookie of the Year in the Legends Division last year, finishing second among 62 drivers in the season points standings.

“I’ve been fortunate to win a lot and have a lot of success, thanks to a team that has been built around me.”

For more information on Eric and for his latest race results, visit