John Rittenoure - TULSA, Okla. (August 28, 2023) - Like most Oklahoma schools Warner High School fields the full gamut of OSSAA sanctioned sports. But at Warner you have one more option that one nobody else has, to be part of a dirt track stock car racing team.
Warner Schools Superintendent David Vinson is offering a class where students can get hands on experience building and maintaining a race car, then take it to track on the weekend and pit for Vinson who races the car.
“We started this program for kids to get involved in something unusual that a lot of kids don’t have access to, and I get to drive it. You can’t really put students in a race car,” Vinson said of the race team he coaches. “They work on this car so hard. You saw how they worked tonight and how much fun they had. They did all the welding, hung the body on it and did the setup. They do all the repairs, they do it all.”
Friday, August 25, pit crews and racers from competing teams took notice as a yellow Warner School bus pulled into the pits and 12 students, all wearing Warner shirts, exited the bus. Following behind was a truck pulling a race car trailer, with a wrap declaring it belonged to the Warner High School Racing Team, and containing a Factory Stock race car.
The 12 team members stayed busy all night getting the car ready for heat race and feature race competition and then watched attentively as Vinson pulled onto the track in preparation to take a green flag.
“This is our first time we have been in this car in Tulsa to run a feature,” explained Vinson. “We came here in the spring but made only four laps. The rear end broke loose.”
It went much better this time. Vinson raced to a 4th place finish in his heat race and came back in the 20-lap feature race where he raced to a second place finish after contending for the lead in the closing laps.
On Saturday the team went to Creek County Speedway in Kellyville and Vinson finished 6th in the feature. Saturday, August 19, the team ventured to Salina Highbanks Speedway in Salina and Vinson earned another 2nd place finish.
It helps that Vinson has racing experience and knows what it takes to make the class rewarding and successful.
“I raced a lot in the 1990’s and 2000’s,” Vinson said. “I ran mostly at Thunderbird Speedway (in Muskogee) and Salina (Highbanks Speedway). It was easy to slide into this.
“I am really lucky I get to be a part of this program. We have a great school board that supports us.”
The program is in its first year of existence.
“We started last August and finished in April,” Vinson said of the program that only operates during the school season. “It took quite a bit of time to build (the race car) because we build it one hour a day during the school day. it is actually a STEM science class for the students.
“We have 12 students. We capped it at 12 because it a manageable number in the shop. It is a commitment because they sometimes have to work on it after school, sometimes on the weekend and go to races. You can’t just be in the class.”
Warner gets support from the Hayden Ross Motorsports Foundation which helps high schools, trade schools and colleges start and develop a motorsports program. The foundation was formed last year in honor of young Hayden Ross, who was an accomplished late model stock car racer in Muskogee who lost his life in a non-racing accident.
“We are one of the first organizations they have been in communication with,” Vinson said. “I think we have some things planned for the future.”
The Sooner Late Model Series, where Ross raced and won the season championship in 2022, was racing at Tulsa Speedway Friday and after watching Vinson drive to a 2nd place finish the team sat in the stands and watched the Sooner Late Model feature.
Vinson appreciates the area speedways allowing Warner to visit their tracks and to introduce and educate students about auto racing.
“I want to thank Tulsa Speedway for being so hospitable to us,” Vinson said of Tulsa Speedway management that allowed the 12-member team in without paying the standard pit fees. “They brought us in. As a bunch of students we can’t afford pit passes and could not race if we had to spent that much every week. They helped us out and it was great for the kids.”