From the track to the mat

Sophomore wrestler Waste doubles as drag racer

On December 2, 2012

  • Courtesy of Jake Waste. Sophomore wrestler Jake Waste (left) tinkers with his baby

When sophomore wrestler Jake Waste was 8 years old, he didn't just dream of slamming opponents on the mat. He wanted to slam his foot on a steel pedal and feel the rush of going 0-100 mph in a matter of seconds.

Waste has made his name known by dominating on the wrestling mats of Alumni Arena as one of the Bulls' top wrestlers this season. However, in his hometown of Ramsey, Minn., he's one of the best that the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) has to offer.

The NHRA is a drag racing governing body. Most racers, like Waste and his father Jason, test their skills on the drag racing track. It's one of the largest motorsports associations in the world, with over 40,000 licensed drivers.

Waste's calm perspective on the track is the same edge he has when he walks onto the wrestling mat. Waste finished an impressive 24-9 last year and narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament. He finished third at the Mid-American Conference Championships. The exchange from the track to the mat is always the same theme for Waste: collected in the face of excitement.

Waste's college career keeps him away from the garage but not off the track. He flies home for the holidays and small periods over the summer. His time at home is devoted to the track and the garage, where the family builds their cars.

For Waste, racing is a part of the family business. His grandfather, Bob Waste, started racing long before Jason was even born, when the sport was in its infancy. Jason developed a strong devotion for all things steel and horsepower. The love of racing was passed down like an heirloom from grandfather to father to son.

"I was racing since before he was a baby," Jason said. "And he was always excited to come to the tracks. He could barely walk, but he was always excited in and around the car. We would talk about how he would jump for joy in the back of the car just getting ready to go."

To get the competitive edge started early, Jason introduced Waste to riding dirt bikes when he was 6 years old. Due to restrictions placed by the NHRA, children cannot get behind the wheel of any vehicle until they are 8 years old. But as soon as Waste grew out of the bikes, he was put into a junior dragster (a half-scale drag car).

He was already familiar with the intricacies of power racing. Thanks to his experience on two wheels, Waste was ready to impress on four.

"They give you time and speed limits [in Jr. Dragsters]," Jason said. "At 10 years old, he was going a little over 70 miles an hour. Once you hit 13, you can go 80 miles an hour. Those cars are faster than your current Mustangs and Corvettes in an 1/8-mile race."

Jason was amazed to see his son perform so well so early. As a result, the family invested time, money and miles into pursuing Waste's racing career, taking trips from their home in Minnesota to Kansas City, Colorado and Iowa just to race.

They crisscrossed the Midwest, sometimes spending 17 hours on the road one way, to race for only seconds at a time. Wherever they went, everyone was amazed by Waste's skill on the track.

"I remember a friend of mine who was 60 years old," Jason said. "He came to me and said: 'This kid is good. I haven't seen anybody that good in a long time.'"

When Waste talks about his races, you would never think of him as a protégé behind the wheel. He is humble concerning his racing success.

"You have to know in the back of your head that no matter what, you're the best," Waste said. "You can't just be like: 'Oh yeah, I'm awesome.' So I keep that levelheadedness."

When Waste grew out of the Jr. Dragster cars, he had to move up to a true hot rod and race exclusively muscle cars.

While Waste is humble about his driving ability, he's nothing but proud of the car that he and his dad spent countless hours building.

It is an all-steel metal monster that is designed to go from zero to over 160 miles an hour in under nine seconds. The bright red vehicle is the embodiment of what NHRA stands for: taking something from the garage and revolutionizing it into a high-velocity masterpiece of horsepower and adrenaline.

Since upgrading the vehicle over the winter holidays, the car races a full two seconds faster, but it has been through its fair share of rough times.

 "The car wasn't ready for [racing]," Jason said. "And we had to put in 1,000s of dollars to get the car ready. When I drove it, it was all over the place. I was actually afraid. The car was moving all over the track. I thought I was going to lose control and it was popping and shaking. I tell Jake: 'I don't know if you're ready for this. I'll make some adjustments but I'll watch the car. You drive it; you tell me what needs to be done.'"

The car was like a test of trust for the Waste family - a challenge that Jason could not overcome. Could a 16-year-old kid match up?

The car was no trouble for Waste. After his father passed over the keys, Waste commanded the car with the hands, feet and knowledge of a racer well beyond his years. He was able to harness the raw energy of the car and convert horsepower to speed. He earned his fastest time yet on the track.

"He drove it and he communicated everything to me and he drove that car like a champ," Jason said. "I was dumbfounded. I mean, here he is, a kid. I've been doing this for 30 years and this kid, in this short amount of time, can do it like this. He drove a car where I couldn't. He beat my time. And there's this elusive eight-second time slip [in racing], and he broke it, at like 153 miles an hour.

"And we both teared up and gave each other a big hug. It was just a big hurdle to get over."

For as much work as it takes to get a car ready for the race, racing is just a small part of a weekend at the track. There are family, friends and an environment buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm for the sport.

The bond Jason has with his son is a strong one that's been fortified over their time on the track, unbreakable by even the competition of a race.

"We raced once. I don't want to talk about it." Jason laughed. "I wanted to beat him so bad, but I jumped the red. The funny thing was I was faster at the time and catching up. He was giving me the middle finger all the way down the track. We have that goofy bond, where we mess with each other like that."




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