EAST MIDDLEBURY — Only 17, Hunter Bates already knows the importance of balance in his life. An honor roll student at Middlebury Union High School, Bates is also an accomplished racecar driver in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and hopes one day to compete on the professional NASCAR circuit.
Bates said his good grades reflect his racing mindset.
“To do well I need to be in the zone. I need to have that determination to go to the front and win,” he said.
Much as he balances racing and academics, Bates, an East Middlebury resident, also races in two different cars at the Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven, which will host his races the rest of the summer: No. 9, a black, late-model asphalt car, and No. 69, a red, northeastern dirt modified car.
Although not as apples-and-oranges as schoolwork and competitive driving, each car and style of racing requires a different set of skills.
“I just erase my mind (when I switch cars). I get out of the late model car and just forget everything that happened in the last race,” Bates said. “I start over and move on. It’s what you’ve got to do when the cars are so unalike on the track.”
The northeastern dirt modified car lacks the power and smoother turning capabilities of the late-model asphalt car, but is a little faster.
“Number 69 (the dirt modified car) can get up to about 116 (mph) down on the backstretch. Number 9 can reach about 111,” Bates said.
Bates went toward the front on this past Friday night at Devil’s Bowl in both his races, but came up short. Bates began the night in No. 9, the late model car, finishing second to rookie Joey Roberts of Georgia in a 10-lap heat. Sitting in third place for most of the race, Bates made a surge on the outside with two laps to go. Roberts, though, maintained his inside position and narrowly fended off a charging Bates by a mere 0.001 of a second.
Later, in the night’s 35-lap Bond Auto Parts Modified Feature race, Bates made a strong move in his dirt modified car to the front of the pack, this time overtaking his rival Roberts to gain the lead on the 15th lap. Repeated contact, however, between Bates and Ron Proctor, of Charlton, N.Y., caused Bates to lose his lead and ultimately slowed him to a 14th-place finish out of 16 competitors.
The contact with Proctor marked the second consecutive week Bates had been slowed by a dust-up with an opponent. Avoiding these bumps in the future is Bates and his crew’s top priority for the rest of the season.
“We basically need to win races and not wreck any more equipment,” he said.
Other than the issues with avoiding contact, Bates feels understandably comfortable at Devil’s Bowl.
“The first time I drove was at that race track,” he said. “Every once in a while it goes like it did last weekend, but I really have an appreciation for that track.”
It’s no surprise Bates feels at home at Devil’s Bowl. His father, Mark Bates, was a technician for G. Stone Motors Inc. who brought his son to the track many times as a youngster. Mark Bates also coached Hunter when he began racing go-karts at the age of 7 and now serves as his crew chief for the asphalt car, while Danny Bocharn handles that task for the dirt modified car.
“I grew up on the track,” Hunter Bates said. “We ended up doing it year after year, and here we are now.”
The Devil’s Bowl has seen Bates’ career gradually take off, dating back to 2008 when he began racing with the northeastern dirt modified car. Two years later, in 2010, Bates added the model asphalt car to his repertoire.
Though Bates hasn’t won any races this season, he has shown the fearlessness in attacking the front that he said is key to winning. Thanks to four top-five finishes and 10 top-10 finishes, Bates is currently ranked 73rd in the country in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Though winning and garnering more sponsors remain his immediate goals and professional racing his long-term goal, Bates acknowledges his desire to attend college following his upcoming senior year.
“I want to stay close to home,” Bates said. “I really like UNH (the University of New Hampshire) and VTC (Vermont Technical College).”
As a student-athlete, Bates hopes to continue his racing through college while maintaining his excellent academic record.
“I’ve been able to do both (school and racing) for a while,” he said. “I don’t see why I can’t keep doing it.”