MANCHESTER — Manchester’s Reid Lanpher is taking driver’s education and drove during his first lesson Tuesday.
“It’s hard to keep under the speed limit, even in a four-cylinder car,” quipped Lanpher, who turned 15 on May 9.
That’s because the freshman at Maranacook High School in Readfield is used to driving fast.
He is a developmental driver in the Pro Late Model series for JR Motorsports, the team that is co-owned by Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller.
Lanpher signed an 18-race deal with JR Motorsports and has already competed in six races and finished 12th or better in every race. There have been at least 28 cars in every race.
His goal is to race on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, a goal former Nationwide Series driver and four time K and N Pro Series East points champion Andy Santerre of Cherryfield thinks is attainable.
“He is more than capable of going to the top level [Sprint Cup] if he doesn’t get burned out,” said Santerre, who is filling in for Tony Ricci as Lanpher’s crew chief for four of his Pro All-Stars Series Super Late Model North races. “He’s also very mature for his age and he’s very polite. He’s a joy to be around. His parents [Scott and Holly] deserve a lot of credit.”
Santerre and Lanpher have already raced twice together. Lanpher failed to qualify at Oxford Plains Speedway but led 33 laps during the race at Scarborough’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway before a flat tire and late-race wreck resigned him to a 23rd-place finish.
“He did a hell of a job. He turned a lot of heads [at Beech Ridge],” said Santerre, a former competition director for Revolution Racing and Hattori Racing in the K and N series. “He’s pretty impressive. He has won in everything. He has natural ability and he knows how to take care of the equipment.”
Lanpher said Santerre has been an “unbelievable help” to him.
“He is such a knowledgeable guy,” said Lanpher.
His auto racing career came about by accident, according to his father, Scott.
“When he was 9 years old, he was playing soccer and he came over at halftime and told us his back hurt with every step he took,” said Scott.
They discovered that Reid had broken his back, probably from motocross racing.
“He was in a brace from his waist up to his armpits for six months,” said Scott. “He was able to play baseball but he came home one night and told us he wasn’t as happy playing baseball as he was racing and that he missed racing.
“But we told him he couldn’t do motocross anymore because if he got hurt again, he may not be able to walk. So he said, ‘Let me race something else.”
That something else was a go-kart that launched Reid’s remarkably-successful young career.
In his first season at Thundering Valley in St. Albans, the 9-year-old won 16 races.
Track owner Nate Anderson constructed a special go-kart for him to accommodate his back injury.
He eventually moved to Mini-Cup cars, Mini-Modifieds, Late Models, Pro Stocks and the Amsoil Nelcar Legends Tour, which are 5/8ths replica cars from the 1930s and ’40s that use motorcycle engines.
As a rookie in the Nelcar Legends Tour, he had five top-five finishes and, last May, in his second season, he became the youngest winner of a Legends race and the youngest winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on the road course.
He was undefeated as a snowmobile racer and has been a consistent winner in virtually every racing series he has been involved in.
Reid ran a couple of races in the Granite State Pro Stock Series last season and his crew chief was Westbrook’s Ricci.
Ricci was so impressed with him that he called L.W. Miller, who ran a Pro Late Model team for JR Motorsports, and an interview was set up, including a Pro Late Model test drive at Motor Mile Speedway.
Miller, Kelley Earnhardt’s husband, was equally impressed and he hired Lanpher.
Lanpher said Ricci, Miller and drivers on the PASS tour who have raced against him and offered him advice have been extremely helpful in his development.
He pointed out that veteran racer Mike Rowe came up to him before a race and gave him some valuable tips on how to negotiate the race track.
As a driver for JR Motorsports, Lanpher competes in the Whelen All-American (Pro Late Model) Series races at two tracks: Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, N.C., and Motor Mile Speedway in Dublin, Va.
The first six races have been held in Lucama, N.C. Lanpher ran a pair of 100-lap races each weekend.
He was 11th and 12th in his first two races, sixth and fifth in the next two and ninth and third in the most recent races last month.
His first two 125-lap races at Motor Mile Speedway were rained out and he planned to fly down to Virginia on Thursday to run a pair of features on Saturday before returning home on Sunday.
He will also run a half-dozen PASS Super Late Model North races, a dozen or so Nelcar Legends car events at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough and some Whelen All-American Series (Pro Stock) races at Beech Ridge.
“It has been crazy,” said Lanpher. “I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity I’ve had. To have this opportunity and to be fortunate enough to get the finishes we’ve had and to be able to show the speed we’ve had … I couldn’t be happier.”
Lanpher plays soccer, basketball and baseball at Maranacook but racing will always be his first love.
He has had to juggle his school schedule but keeps up with his studies because it is required by his parents.
“Maintaining good grades is hard. But that’s part of my responsibility for having this opportunity. My parents said school comes before racing. If my grades aren’t up, I can’t go racing,” said Lanpher.
He knows he is going to have to turn a lot of heads and win races to reach the Sprint Cup Series.
“There’s quite a bit of pressure but that’s part of racing. I’ve gotten pretty used to it. I’m just going to do the best I can every time I’m on the track,” said Lanpher.
Scott Lanpher admitted that the expense is difficult and it’s a source of frustration.
If two family members want to see him race in Virginia or North Carolina, it will cost approximately $1,500, he said.
“He has the talent to [drive in the Sprint Cup series] but I don’t know if we can provide him with those opportunities,” said Scott Lanpher. “It’s frustrating to me. It’ll take nothing short of a miracle to make it happen.
“Our best hope is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes a liking to him and wants him to race in the Nationwide Series for him. That’s the ultimate goal right now,” said Scott Lanpher, who noted that drivers have to be 18 years old to race in the Nationwide or Craftsman Truck Series.
Reid Lanpher could race in the K and N Pro Series East Series at 15 but it is cost-prohibitive, according to Scott Lanpher, who hopes they can land more sponsorship money.
“I’m just trying to get as much experience driving as I can. Hopefully, I’ll win some races and get my name out there. I’m going to do as many races as I can and try to move up the ladder,” said Reid, who will spend time learning about race cars and the equipment in the JR Motorsports race shop in Mooresville, N.C., for parts of the summer.
“I want to learn a lot because it will make me a better driver,” said Lanpher, whose teammate, Josh Berry, won the Whelen All-American Pro Late Model Series for JR Motorsports last season.
Lanpher, who enjoys his Whelen crew chief, Seth Kooiker, said he has been “blessed to be surrounded by so many great people” and said if it wasn’t for his parents, he wouldn’t be where he is.
Reid Lanpher considers himself a “very competitive person” but he knows the odds are stacked against him in his desire to reach the Sprint Cup Series.
“A lot of things are going to have to fall into place for me,” said Lanpher. “We’ve got to find the right sponsors. But I’m going to do as much as I can and go as far as I can and have fun.”