Life lessons in the fast lane

Photo Kristin Schultz
Blake Mahieu, fifth grader at Brown School, worked to secure sponsors for his slingshot racing team.Photo Kristin Schultz Blake Mahieu, fifth grader at Brown School, worked to secure sponsors for his slingshot racing team.

By Kristin Schultz

Gazette Reporter

It’s a green flag for speed and integrity as Blake Mahieu, 11, buckles into his slingshot car with his sights set on both the finish line and financial responsibility.

“I’ve been around racing my whole life,” he said. “I love going fast, I love engines and racing teaches life lessons like good sportsmanship.”

Blake has been racing since he was 4 years old, starting with snowmobiles and adding bicycle motocross. This year, when he wanted to race slingshot cars, his father, Shane, seized on a teachable moment and encouraged Blake to secure sponsorships to help fund Blake and his teammate, Garrett Poland of New Baltimore.

“In life, you don’t just get everything handed to you,” Blake said. “You have to work for it. The sponsors have been great.”

To date, Blake, a fifth-grader at Brown School in Schenectady , has secured five sponsors: Schenectady Truck and Auto Parts; Sunrise Management and Consulting of Albany; Seymour’s Motor Sports in Cohoes; Ed’s Barber Shop in Schenectady; and State Farm Insurance agent John Craig in Scotia.

Racing runs in the family as Shane is himself a champion BMX, motocross and powerboat racer, and has raced slingshot cars in New York and Pennsylvania. He started taking his son to the track when Blake was 2.

The Glen Ridge Motorsports Park track in Fultonville is where Blake met his idol and mentor, short-track racer Stewart Friesen.

“I really look up to him,” said Blake. “He races clean and drives really well but the best part is that he’s super nice and humble. He’s the best of the best but he’s not cocky.”

Slingshot cars resemble sprint cars but are smaller and more enclosed. Like sprint cars, Slingshot cars race on dirt tracks. Blake plans to race at Glen Ridge The track there is made of clay and is just over a quarter of a mile. During a race, Blake will drive 20 laps and will reach speeds topping 80 miles per hour. The racing season lasts from April to October with races every week.

Blake drives a car powered by a v-twin 600cc Briggs & Stratton engine that cannot be modified in any way, per racing rules. Other parts, like springs and wheels, can be altered, however. The car runs on methanol.

The car has no doors, so Blake crawls into the driver’s seat from the top. He has to remove the steering wheel to get into place and then straps in with a five-point safety harness. He wears a helmet and has limited head movement because of the shape of the seat.

The back left wheel on his car is bigger than the rest. This is called stagger. When Blake turns left into the corner, his car will naturally want to turn because of the stagger in the back wheel. Shane illustrated the concept by setting a plastic drinking cup on its side and giving it a push. The cup turned sharply to the left, toward the smaller wheel.

Although racing is Blake’s passion, education remains his focus.

He prioritizes homework and household chores, then has spent up to four and five hours a night working on his car.

“I take my time on my homework and ask for help when I need it,” Blake said. “Mom and Dad will help me with how to do something, but they won’t do it for me.”

In addition to managing his time, racing and homework, Blake also has to manage a severe peanut and tree-nut allergy.

“He has almost died twice,” said Shane.

Blake doesn’t go anywhere without his backpack that holds life-saving equipment like epinephrine pens, benadryl and albuterol. Everything in the Mahieu house is sanitized. Blake’s allergy makes traveling a challenge — even passing a confectionary shop making peanut brittle can trigger a reaction — but the family has learned to adapt.

Whether it’s racing, getting sponsors, academics or managing his health, Blake does not shy away from a test, but rather goes in headlong, confident and prepared.

“To win I think you need drive and motivation, training and practice, and the confidence to take risks and get out of your comfort zone,” Blake said. “It doesn’t come easy, but I like a challenge.”

To keep up with the team, follow them on Instagram @mahieumotorsports.