During the week, Luke Boles attends Dos Pueblos High School, driving the short trip from his home in Goleta in a 1987 Toyota pickup. On weekends, though, the 16-year-old Chargers football defensive back and wide receiver sits behind the wheel of a very different vehicle — a 650-horsepower “sprint car,” the biggest and fastest ride in Boles’ six-year career as a go-kart racer. It’s a step up from the Pro Dwarf series races Boles has excelled in, winning both Rookie of the Year and the Ventura Raceway Association’s (VRA) season championship late last November.
Boles got his start in Santa Maria, racing smaller go-karts on a paved track before switching to the Junior Midgets youth division in the VRA. (This year is his first in the Adult Pro Dwarf class, which runs 150 horsepower vehicles around a dirt oval, usually in eight- or 20-lap heats.) The typical go-kart season runs March to November, with a series of races awarding drivers points depending on their finishing places weekend to weekend. “It’s something I definitely have to balance — it takes up most of my weekends, and after races, you have to work on the car,” Boles said.
The drive to race runs in the family. Both his father and half brother have competed in the past, and he says preparing for the event is a team effort. His dad, Jim, serves as his crew chief, helping to maintain the vehicle before, during, and after races.
But the allure of racing, Boles said, comes from the driver’s seat. “You spend all week preparing the car; once it comes down to the track pretty much all of the pressure, and the work put into it is all on you,” he said. “[The speed] definitely catches your attention; it’s pretty amazing,” he continued. Pro Dwarf karts can top out at around 65 miles per hour — an intense speed for a vehicle only about four feet tall. The sprint cars, he said, can hit close to 120 mph, although Ventura’s track is too short to drive much faster than 80 mph.
The move to sprint cars will change more than just speed; the bigger, faster vehicles are much more expensive to purchase and maintain. Motor and body together can set a racing team back more than $20,000, with the top teams pushing the $30,000 mark. But it will be worth it to get one step higher in the racing hierarchy, something Boles said is a competitive field. “[You can] move up through each division if you do well enough in go-karts. It just kinda depends on how you’re looking.” Eventually, he’d like to move to full-sized cars and go as far as he can in the various racing divisions.
First, though, Boles said he’s headed to college after finishing at Dos Pueblos. His plan is to get a degree and a steady job, hopefully one that pays well enough to allow him to buy and operate a race car of his own. He’s considering studying aeronautical engineering, a passion fueled by his mechanical experience working on his karts and time spent in a flight camp at the S.B. Airport.