Lack of license doesn’t slow young driver

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | From left, three generations of family race car drivers: Mark Stewart. Roger Turbush, Chris Turbush and Dan Turbush.
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | From left, three generations of family race car drivers: Mark Stewart, Roger Turbush, Chris Turbush and Dan Turbush.

It’s ironic that one of the hottest new drivers at Riverhead Raceway this season doesn’t possess a driver’s license. At 15 years of age, Mark Stewart isn’t even old enough for a learner’s permit.

It would be against the law for Stewart to get behind the wheel on a public street, but it’s fine with NASCAR for him to race in Riverhead Raceway’s Super Pro Trucks division, reaching speeds as fast as 65 to 70 miles per hour on the quarter-mile oval. And Stewart isn’t only racing — he’s winning.

Seven races into his budding auto racing career, Stewart already has two back-to-back wins under his belt.

“I was ecstatic,” Stewart, who will soon begin his freshman year at Riverhead High School, said. “It was so surprising, you know.”

Then again, maybe not too surprising considering his pedigree. Stewart comes from a family with a rich tradition in racing. He represents the fourth generation of a famed Riverhead Raceway racing family, the Turbushes. He is the grandson of Dan Turbush, whose late father, Charley Turbush, won 37 races and a title at Riverhead Raceway in jalopies. Dan Turbush himself first raced at the raceway in 1967. Although he last raced two years ago, he said his racing days are not over yet. “I think I’m one of the last dinosaurs,” he said.

Two of Stewart’s uncles and Dan Turbush’s sons, Chris and Roger Turbush, are both current drivers at the track. Chris Turbush competes in Chargers and Roger Turbush in Super Pro Trucks alongside his nephew. Roger Turbush is the defending Super Pro Trucks champion.

Dan Turbush (55) and Chris Turbush (34) rank first and second on the raceway’s all-time Chargers win list. In terms of championships, Dan has claimed six and Chris has four.

“Obviously, it’s in my blood to race, and I really love to do it,” Stewart said. “It’s really fun.”

Stewart had raced go-karts for seven years and had success, too, winning a regional championship. Then Chris Turbush encouraged him to give driving his truck a try last year, which he did during a couple of practice runs.

This year Stewart was deemed ready to make the jump, and there he was in his uncle’s No. 8 truck, a hybrid with a Ford body and a Chevy front end on it. “We’re low budget here,” said Chris Turbush.

Of course, there was a modification for the newest member of the Turbush Racing team. In order to see over the steering wheel, Stewart sits on an old fire suit.

Stewart’s first two races this season were unremarkable. He got into wrecks that were not his fault, said Chris Turbush.

“He went right into the wall the second week,” Dan Turbush said. “He got hit, he didn’t make the corrections, and went straight into the wall.”

In order to pick up points, Stewart started but did not complete the next two races with borrowed trucks. Then, after spending all day repairing the motor to No. 8, Stewart went out and won his first complete race.

“I was crying,” Chris Turbush said. “I was ecstatic. It was just a joy.”

The following week, Stewart started fourth on the outside before pulling away from one of the better drivers, Frank Dumicich Jr., the points leader. That led to his second win in a row.

In Saturday’s race, which Roger Turbush won, Stewart finished seventh. He currently sits eighth in the standings.

Stewart has the qualities that make a good race-car driver, said Chris Turbush. “He’s got instincts and a great racing mind. He’s good. He’s just as good as us right now. He’s got it in him. He’s a Turbush.”

Stewart, who races for Angela’s House, a charitable organization that assists families caring for medically frail children, said it was scary at first when he first started racing, but he has quickly become accustomed to it. He has learned a lot, like how exhausting race-car driving can be, and how much behind-the-scenes work is involved.

“I just watched the videos, saw the mistakes I [made], see where I can get better at,” he said. “I really learned when to get on the gas, when to lift, how much break to use, where the better line is.”

Stewart said he is also helped by the radio communication he keeps with Chris Turbush during races. “My Uncle Chris, he’s amazing on the radio,” Stewart said. “He just keeps me calm. He keeps me in the race. He just guides me through it.”

Given what he has experienced on the race track, Stewart, who will turn 16 on Dec. 27, should not be nervous when the time comes for his road test for a driver’s license. That should be a piece of cake for him, but then again …

“He might fail,” Chris Turbush said. “He might be going too fast.”

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