On the right track | October 31, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

Almanac

Cover Story - October 31, 2018

On the right track

Menlo Park teen is a racing phenom

by Kate Daly

Longtime Almanac readers may have a feeling of deja vu reading about 13-year-old car racing phenom Jesse Love of Menlo Park — his dad, Jess Love, made headlines for his racing career in this very newspaper some 30 years ago.

Racing is definitely in the blood, going back one more generation to Jesse's grandfather, Jesshill, who went for speed in hydroplanes. Jesshill made his son quit racing at age 14, so Jess could go on to attend a private high school, college and law school.

After practicing law for more than two decades, Jess says now all he wants to do is encourage his son Jesse to race. "I retired two years ago to run him full time," Jess Love says.

"My wife and I have decided we'll take it as far as it goes," Jess says.

"We love it. We wouldn't want to do anything else."

An eighth-grader at Hillview Middle School, Jesse estimates his racing schedule causes him to miss up to 5 percent of school days. He may opt for independent study rather than go to high school next year.

The racing season typically goes from April to November, and this year he has 48 races on his calendar, and 52 lined up for 2019. Almost every weekend, father and son pile into their "home away from home" Love Motorsports trailer — sometimes hauling a car, depending on the race — and go to tracks located in places like Madera, Stockton, Lakeport, Sonoma and Las Vegas.

Jesse also drives cars for other teams, and those commitments have recently taken him to North Carolina and Indiana. He estimates that between all the tests and races one crazy week last summer he drove about 1,000 laps.

Jess launched his son in quarter-midget racing as soon as it was legal for the young boy to compete at age 5. Since then Jesse has gone on to race in bigger and bigger cars with more horsepower. He received a waiver to compete against older drivers, and in October he made headlines for breaking former NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon's record, becoming the youngest full-midget winner in United States history.

Jesse drives his team's sprint car with 600-plus horsepower, and races with about 450 horsepower, and drives super late models with up to 800 or 900 horsepower. He's one of about 20 drivers participating in the Toyota Racing Development Driver Program, and consults with NASCAR development expert Lorin Ranier.

Known on the tracks by the nickname, "The Hammer," Jesse was the youngest United States Auto Club HPD champion last year, and is the only driver to ever win that club's triple crown with Overall, Dirt and Pavement Championships.

It's easy to forget Jesse is only 13 when he talks.

"You need to be the best, winning the races, you have to be better than the other guy on fitness, PR, winnings, and sponsors to do it," he says. "You're always trying to do something better."

"Racing takes up your whole life to be the best," he says.

Jesse enjoys a good social life, but acknowledges he's missing out on some parties when he's away competing on the weekends.

He likes surfing with this father, but to prevent injuries, Jesse had to give up dirt biking and skateboarding. He broke his collarbone doing the latter.

Jesse trains several hours a day, hitting the gym to focus on cardio workouts "to get fit and lean." At 5 feet, 9 inches tall, he keeps his weight between 110 and 120 pounds, eats mostly salads and protein, and drinks a lot of water.

He packs his own lunch for school, and his mother, Elizabeth Love, makes him a healthy dinner. She goes to some of his races, whereas his older sister, Vivian, goes to all of them.

Like many teenagers, Jesse spends time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but unlike most, he's busy promoting himself to fans on social media. His public relations manager is in Florida and regularly updates his website, jesseloveracing.com.

Sponsors cover a chunk of Jesse's expenses; their logos appear on his racing suit, helmet, cars and promotional materials.

The fastest he's gone is 140 to 150 mph in a midget car. He says "everything kind of goes fuzzy" when hurtling along at that speed.

"I've crashed a few times, flipped a few cars, totaled a few cars — it's all part of racing," Jesse says.

For each test or race, he straps himself into a five-point safety harness so tight he can't really move in his padded seat. He wears a triple-layered fireproof suit, race shoes, a helmet, and a special collar to protect his neck. He says gravitational force can cause his neck to swell to almost double in size.

Dealing with the heat is one of his biggest challenges. It can get up to 130 or 140 degrees inside cars during races, and he has lost 3 or 4 pounds just from sweating.

Jesse broke his hand in a race in Las Vegas, but says, "I've never gotten severely injured so far," and reaches over to knock on wood.

He keeps his large collection of medals and bulky trophies at his dad's office in Redwood City. Jesse's sprint car is parked in the garage there. His team helps him work on dissembling and reassembling the car after every race.

Speaking from experience, team owner Jess says, "The only way to make it to the top is you have to win, and to do that you need a great car, great motor, great setup, great team and great driver."

Jesse has his own winning philosophy now that he's on the path to NASCAR and has a desire to join Formula One Racing: "Don't do it for somebody else, do it for yourself, or your heart won't be in it."

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