OXFORD — Cruz Skinner won in the Crate Late Model division at the Talladega Short Track June 14, his second win of the season. The 12-year-old dreams big but remains level-headed.
“I started racing go-karts when I was 5 years old,” he said. “We traveled all over the Southeast racing. We had a lot of success and we had a lot of luck, too. At the age of 10, I decided I wanted to race cars, to move up into the car divisions. I raced a front-wheel-drive car for two years. I won 26 races in it. Then, this year I moved up into a crate car. I’ve won two races this year. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to do what I love to do.”
Skinner hopes that maybe one day he will make it into the NASCAR circuit, the ultimate dream of every race car driver, but for now, he is focused on remaining successful throughout the season in the Crate Late Model division.
“I’d like to win a few championships soon,” he said. “I want to graduate high school and pursue my racing career and eventually, my ultimate goal is to race in NASCAR.”
His favorite NASCAR driver is Jeff Gordon, not because of Gordon’s driving style but because of Gordon’s ability to surround himself with a winning team and Gordon’s commitment to being involved with strong organizations.
Another role model is his father, Greg Skinner, who raced for 26 years before retiring to spend more time with his children.
“I just want to thank my dad and my Papaw,” Cruz Skinner said. “They have stood behind me all the way to where I am today from when I first started racing go-karts.”
Greg Skinner used to race against 2004 National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame inductee Ronnie Johnson. Johnson saw the talent in Cruz Skinner from an early age and has made a concerted effort to serve as a mentor figure.
“I’ve always looked up to Ronnie Johnson,” Cruz Skinner said. “He’s in the dirt track Hall of Fame. He’s taken a special interest in helping me learn the skills of driving a late model car. He’s also helped me learn the contents of the chassis.”
Cruz Skinner said Talladega Short Track is not a course for claustrophobics.
“Racing at Talladega is close,” he said. “It’s different wherever you go. You have to adjust to different tracks and just adjust to everything.”
Cruz Skinner said his crew chief has played an instrumental role in teaching him how to make proper adjustments in order to be prepared at each different race track.
“My crew chief Ub (Mcfadden), he’s helped me a lot,” Cruz Skinner said. “He’s taught me a lot, too. He’s helped me understand the different choices of tire I have now that I’ve moved up into a crate car. He’s also taught me how to adjust the car to the track. If you adjust this, it’ll do that to the car.”
Skinner believes his time racing go-karts served as valuable experience to prepare for higher levels of racing.
“I’ve learned a lot from go-karts,” he said. “The main thing I learned in go-karts is patience. That’s one thing that I needed this year to learn is patience. I need patience; I need to race as hard as the car will let me. The car can only do so much. That was the main thing I needed to learn earlier this year.”