A tough season can wear on drivers of any age, division, or experience level. Whether it's a rookie or a seasoned veteran, the final few weeks of a year that sees almost nothing go right can seem endless.
Glen Cove's Owen Grennan is neither a rookie nor a grizzled pro but, at 15 years old, no one would have blamed him if he was feeling frustrated. Grennan described his second season driving chargers at Riverhead Raceway rather bluntly.
"It was a nightmare," he said.
First came the crash. Running outside the leader June 6, Grennan smashed his car into a wall, forcing him to miss two races while it was repaired. Later in the season, as he was leading a race, he fell victim to a flat tire. The tire was repaired quickly, but his lead was gone for good.
The hits kept coming. Two weeks ago, Grennan was floating underneath the leader when an axle snapped "out of the blue," and his chances at victory once again floated away.
So when the caution flag came out on the 13th lap of last week's 20-lap main event, it was a case of bad luck deja vu.
"That was the last thing I wanted to see," Grennan, a sophomore at Glen Cove High School, said of the caution flag. "I was trying to stay calm, but I was really stressed out. I was talking to my father, Danny, on the radio and he was trying to tell me to stay calm. But the nerves were going."
But even after the caution shrunk Grennan's large lead, he was able to hold on, earning the first win of his career and turning a nightmare season around.
"I was overwhelmed with emotion," said Grennan, who runs without sponsorship. "I didn't know what to think. I was extremely excited."
Winning is not foreign to the Grennan family. Owen won three champ car (go-cart) championships before moving up to chargers. Danny won three super pro truck championships and is second on the all-time wins list in that division, track spokesman Bob Finan said.
"He was a huge influence," Grennan said of his father. "My uncle Ray also had three championships in the mini modifieds back in the '80s."
Grennan began racing go-carts when he was 5 years old.
"I absolutely loved going to the track," he said. "It was what I was looking forward to each week. After we went to the racetrack on Sunday, I was looking forward to the next week. I slowly started to learn it and get better."
Between watching his father dominate the super pro truck division and studying Jimmie Johnson, his favorite NASCAR driver, on TV, Grennan's eventual plan to move up to a race car was clear from a young age.
"I pretty much knew that that's what I wanted to do," he said.
Grennan is a two-sport athlete. In addition to racing, he plays wide receiver and is the kicker on Glen Cove's junior varsity football team. He'll get back behind the wheel next Saturday, having quickly caught the victory bug.
"I just want to go back and win more," he said.