When 34-year-old Jarrod Hayes thinks back to his early days on a racetrack, all he can do is marvel at how little he knew. Hayes always enjoyed watching racing and when he was 16 he decided to try his hand at it.
"I just went out there and drove around," he said. "I qualified for all the races and finished, but I wasn't very competitive."
While Hayes knew how to operate a car, he was not well educated in the complex world of race-car upkeep. That is, knowing how to take care of it in a way that will allow it to preform optimally on the track. When Hayes turned 19, he began to take racing more seriously and, through extensive study, taught himself everything he could about cars.
"I didn't have anyone doing the work for me," he said. "I either had to learn it myself and get better, or just keep driving around without learning anything and not be very successful . . . It wasn't an easy road, but I wouldn't change it."
And why would he? Hayes' victory last Saturday in the 30-lap Late Model feature event was the 25th victory of his career, encompassing all divisions and all tracks he's driven on, he said.
Hayes knows firsthand that success doesn't come easily.
"It's been a lot of work, a lot of studying, and a lot of learning," he said, reflecting on his career. "I don't think I'm too bad of a driver either."
Four years ago, Hayes, who works for the Riverhead Highway Department, started a side business called "Dialed in by J-Rod," a play on his childhood nickname.
The business aids new drivers who need help figuring out how to properly handle the inner workings of their cars. It's the kind of service that "J-Rod," who is actually in the process of changing the name of the company to HRP -- Hayes Race Car Preparation -- never had when he was a young racer.
"I'm trying to help people out that could use a hand getting their cars handling better," said Hayes, who works out of a small garage at his Calverton home. "I go over the whole car, see what's wrong, and change things around to make it better, so they can get out there and be competitive."
While Hayes said he takes pride in the ability to help out racers and get them finishing higher, he always does the work for the good of the sport.
"Making some of the bad cars a little better makes better racing for everybody to watch," he said.
Hayes had to use some of his expertise this winter after purchasing a new car of his own. He was forced into the new car after totaling his previous one, which he had been driving since 2006, in a wreck last fall at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut.
Hayes said he slammed into a fence after barely grazing another driver early in the race. Thanks to the car's safety features, which included a head and neck restraint system and seats that hold the driver in place, Hayes walked away unharmed.
"The stuff worked just like it was supposed to," he said. "I didn't have a sore muscle in my neck or my body. It was like it never happened."
Except, of course, for the wrecked car.
After purchasing the new car, Hayes worked on altering it to his liking and used the first two races of the year to "just feel out" the car. Last week's victory was the first race Hayes said he was actually competing in.
"It was as good as I'd hoped," he said. "I'll improve on it from here. This week, it'll be even better."
1.Ryan Preece, Berlin, Conn., 105
2.Tom Rogers Jr., Riverhead, 104
3.John Fortin, Holtsville, 91
4.Shawn Solomito, East Moriches, 86
5.Kyle Soper, Manorville, 82 ScheduleTwin 30s Modifieds (time trials), Late Models, Blunderbusts, 30-Lap Super Pro Trucks (time trials), Legends, 4/6 Cylinder Enduro (No Figure 8s or Chargers).