Sergio Pena said he spends a lot of time in a steam room.
And that has contributed to his two wins in the K & N Pro Series East for Revolution Racing which is part of the Drive for Diversity program in NASCAR.
He is tied with Brett Moffitt for most wins through the series’ first seven races.
He is sixth in points.
He won the VisitHamptonVA 175 last Saturday night. He had previously taken the checkered flag in the South Boston 150 in April. Both victories have come in his home state.
“[Sitting in a steam room] has helped me get used to the heat in the race car,” explained the 18-year-old Pena. “I used to drive open-wheel cars and you’d constantly get cool air. I wasn’t used to being in a race car that would get up to 130 to 140 degrees during a race.”
Cherryfield’s Andy Santerre, Revolution Racing’s Director of Competition, said Pena has improved “immensely” over last season when he finished 12th in points. He had three top-10 finishes but didn’t crack the top five.
“He has been doing an awesome job,” said Santerre. “The biggest reason behind his improvement is his physical fitness. He is in a lot better shape this year. In a couple of races last year, he fell out of the seat (exhausted) at the end of the race.
“This year, he looks like he could go another 100 laps,” added Santerre. “His physical conditioning is paying off.”
“I’ve been going to the gym and also sitting in the steam room every day,” said Pena.
Pena was a rookie in the series last season and admitted that he was “clueless.
“It was kind of a struggle. I was over my head. I tried to do more than I could,” said Pena. “This year, I’ve learned to calm down and the main thing is saving your tires. I used my stuff up last year so I’d have no tires left at the end of the race. I’ve been taking care of my tires better this year.
“I learned a lot last year and tried to carry it into this season,” added Pena.
Santerre pointed out that if it wasn’t for bad luck, Pena would be leading the points.
“He had a flat tire in one race, his motor overheated and he had to drop out of another race and he ran out of fuel with two laps to go in another,” said Santerre. “He has done an awesome job taking care of the car.
“And he is driving our only composite car. The body is made of fiberglass instead of steel. Not many people run them. They’re a little cheaper to run. They’re a lot easier to fix. It has saved us money this year,” said Santerre.
Pena is a relative newcomer to stock cars. After beginning his career racing go-karts at age 7, he moved to the Formula TR Pro 1600 series for future Formula 1 (open-wheel) drivers at age 13.
In 2009, he switched over to the Late Model cars and won six of his 11 races at Shenandoah Speedway (Va.).
“I wasn’t used to all the beating and banging and the other stuff. You can’t do that in the open wheel series. I like it a lot more,” said Pena who burst onto the scene by winning the pole and finishing second to current Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano in the Toyota All-Star Showdown at the Toyota Speedway in Irwindale, Calif., in January, 2010.
Racing is in Pena’s blood.
His father, Jai, was a motorcross dirt bike racer in Colombia before moving to the United States.
“I started go-kart racing at 7 just for fun but I fell in love with it,” said Pena. “I won a race my first year.”
Pena credits crew chief Matt Goslant and Santerre with playing important roles in his development.
“Matt is a real good crew chief and good friend and working with Andy is awesome,” said Pena. “Andy is a great guy and is so smart. He’s willing to help everybody.”
Pena also enjoys the other Revolution Racing drivers.
Darrell Wallace Jr. is third in points and has the team’s other win; Ryan Gifford is 12th and Michael Cherry is 17th.
The next race is the New England 125 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 15.
“Hopefully, I’ll get some more wins this year,” said Pena, a recent high school graduate who will attend Radford University and study mechanical engineering in the fall. “New Hampshire is flat and fast like the road courses in my background (in open-wheel cars). That will be a little bit of an advantage for me.”
Unity Late Models a dogfight
Unity Raceway’s Late Model Division appears as though it is going to be a dogfight until the end.
East Madison’s Jeff Burgess has won three of the first five features but Dylan Turner, a third-generation racer and recent high school graduate from Freedom, won the 35-lap feature in the last event two weeks ago.
Last weekend’s racing was cancelled due to the rain.
Burgess has 474 points, Skowhegan’s David Folsom I is second in points with 465 and Turner is third with 455.