Eight-year-old racecar driver overcomes obstacles to take on the big boys.
Elvis Rankin can't help but stand out.
Trackside, as the 8-year-old Quarter Midget racer from Denver, Colorado, prepares to compete against drivers four to six years his senior, you might wonder what kind of character it takes to overcome such a disadvantage in age.
That disadvantage is only the start of Elvis' story.
Elvis was first exposed to racing before he was five years old – but the origins of the focus and discipline that make him excel are found much earlier.
“He had trouble with eating from birth – at six months, I suspected he had Celiac disease,” Elvis' mother, Lisa, explained. “There was a point when he stopped eating – he started to associate food with feeling bad.”
Elvis' restrictive diet includes no gluten, no dairy, and limited sugar. Despite these set-backs, Elvis has been able to find solace in Chinook seeds, a snack that compliments his diet.
“We were super excited to connect with Chinook,” Lisa said. “He's very diligent with his food choices, and Chinook is a winner.”
Elvis' father, Randy, also sees that connection.
“His diet discipline translates nicely into him having the discipline he needs to do things here (on the track),” Randy said. “His drive, his 'want,' has a great deal to do with his ability to be successful.”
Randy works with his father-in-law, Gary Ater – “Grampy” to Elvis – ensuring their racer has the tools he needs to succeed.
Gary raced go-karts in his youth, and encouraged the family to give it a shot. While some envision racing as relatively dangerous, Lisa pointed out that, with the safety measures and equipment in place, injuries are rare.
“Fewer kids get hurt doing this than soccer or football,” Lisa said. “When you put them in the car that first time, some kids freak out, some hit the wall, and some you can't get out of the car. He had a gift for it from the very beginning.”
Randy explained how the family and team aspects of the sport add an extra degree of fulfillment to Elvis' successes.
“When we have a good weekend, when we're successful, it's because we all did our part,” Randy said. “My father-in-law and I give him good cars to drive. His mom makes sure that he's organized, safely buckled in and ready to go, and then when you push that car out on the track, he has to do his part. Everybody on the team has to do their part.”
As Elvis maintains his healthy habit, the determination he’s developed has fed into other developments – including his dyslexia, which Lisa describes as a gift rather an impediment.
“He goes to Vertical Skills Academy, which solely focuses on multi-sensory teaching engineered specifically for dyslexia. He's reading on a fifth-grade level,” Lisa explained.
It's easy for her to link the habitual perseverance he puts in off the track to the dedication he displays on it. “He just doesn't give up easy,” she said. “His issues in the past have taught him resilience. I've always been amazed at his ability to focus, and his commitment to doing what it takes to win.”
Elvis poses with Alec Udell, winner of the 2016 Nissan Grand Prix of Texas
Elvis competes in about 30 races a year – “we've traveled about 15,000 miles these first five months of the year,” Randy said. Elvis' favorite venues are in Las Vegas, where one track is set up in the parking lot of the Rio Hotel & Casino in early December, and the other is at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Elvis links his driving success to having the vision of a racer beyond his years.
“I do stuff that no one thinks I would do,” Elvis said. “I take chances that most wouldn't – they don't even think of them.”
For Elvis, whose NASCAR idol is Kyle Busch, Chinook Seedery is an ideal marketing partner – a food he enjoys and loves sharing with his friends.
“Chinook seeds are my favorite,” Elvis said, mentioning his favorite flavor is cinnamon toast. “It's a super-healthy food, and fun to eat. I'd never had sunflower seeds before. I’ve been sharing them with my racecar friends at the track, and they were a big hit.”
Lisa is thrilled that Chinook sunflower seeds are an allergy-friendly food that her son could represent.
“I don't know if people put 2 and 2 together, but we do,” Lisa explained. “His diet is linked to his health, which links to the consistency of his performances. Elvis knows eating healthy raises his abilities, and Chinook fits in perfectly with that idea.”
Chinook is playing a significant role in helping Elvis pursue his dream.
“We're excited to have Elvis wearing a Chinook race suit, and representing us in a car with our branding,” said Mark Pettyjohn, Chinook Seedery founder. “Elvis is a unique, talented competitor, and a wonderful young spokesman for our snacks.”
“Owning a racecar team comes at a huge expense. Eventually, you can’t race without sponsors,” Lisa explained. “Building this marketing relationship with Chinook was a huge step. It's a natural fit, a win-win. Elvis is proud of representing Chinook.”
For the short-term, Elvis plans to make the move to dirt-track racing in the next 12 months, with the eventual goal of reaching one of NASCAR's top three circuits by 2025 – when he'll reach the advanced age of 17.
Interested in keeping up with Elvis’s racing career? Check out his pages and give him a follow.