“America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, bad-ass speed.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, 1936
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who race and those who don’t.
Lance Cpl. Justin Yohe, a Marine Air Control Squadron 1 navigational aide technician, falls into the former category.
Twenty-year-old Yohe, a native of Bradford, Penn., heard the roar of the engine when he was 11.
“My dad’s friend raced, and he said come out to the track,” said Yohe. “After that, we bought a cheap little car and started from there.”
“I was too young to actually race, so I’d go on the track afterwards and run laps by myself,” he added.
With no human competitors, Yohe challenged himself until he was 12, thereafter placing in third for his first race and winning his second.
“Once I got in it, it was in my blood I guess,” he said.
Yohe honed his skills primarily on three tracks back in Pennsylvania while also venturing out to New York and Ohio. He wasted no time acquainting himself with the dynamic, and often times dangerous, world of racing.
“When I was 12, the first night out for the season I flipped my car two-and-a-half times,” Yohe said. “It was a fun experience. We started sliding and I looked over at my side and saw a ditch and we hit it. I tucked in, closed my eyes, and when I opened them I was spinning. I closed them again. When I opened them, I was still spinning.”
When Yohe finally stopped spinning, he was laying with the driver window pushed into the ground.
Though audience members might share a simple, morbid fascination for potential of crashes, the drivers know how complex racing can be.
Yohe explained the different classes of racing, such as Charger Class, Pure Stock and Street Stock. Chargers are small cars, Pure Stock are full-bodied V-8s with no modifications and Street Stock allows heavily modified vehicles to run the loop.
“You run a class depending on how much money you want to spend,” he said. “Whatever you want to run, you build your car to it.”
Yohe raced through all of them before arriving at his current class: Pro Stock. His advancement was as much natural progression as it was necessity.
“Back home, there was more done to the car than the street stocks down here,” he said. “When I got down here, I couldn’t run with them and had to move up.”
Only two decades into life, he faces competition from both his peer group and men his father’s age.
“When I was in the Minis, it was 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds against 40-year-olds,” he said. “A lot of them would get upset but a few of them were very helpful. They’d run both classes I was in and that helped me a lot.”
Yohe currently races with a Pontiac Grand Prix, and talked about how he converted the vehicle.
“For the car I have now, you pretty much build it from the frame up. You build the roll cage, and from there you build the body. You take big sheets of aluminum and cut them and bend them to make the body. We get the motor from a guy back home. The rear end is out of a ford car so you have to build the mounts of that. And all the suspension’s been beefed up.”
“There’s no floor anymore,” he added. “We didn’t need it. There’s just one little cockpit that I sit in.”
The lack of floor makes the car easier to work with, but it’s hardly a four-wheeled deathtrap.
“The cars are built to keep you safe,” Yohe said. “It’s got a roll cage, neck protector, fire suit, helmet, five-point harness, racing seat. There’s a lot that goes into safety.”
“You can’t run it on the street,” Yohe said. “It’s not street legal. The way the rear end is, if you run on pavement, you break axels. We need to transport with truck and trailer.”
Once Yohe hits the dirt track, he dons racing number 26, a numbers in respect to his two favorite drivers: Rusty Wallace (two) and Mark Martin (six). While he races, the audience holds their breath as the collective sound of thousands of horsepower propel Yohe and the other drivers into what can seem like an infinite loop.
It’s for this reason, staying mentally dynamic while carving the earth in a circle, Yohe considers racing more than a hobby.
“I consider it a sport because it is,” he said. “The most laps I’ve ever done at one time was 100. At the end of the race you’re tired, your arms are tired, you’ve been mentally focused 100 percent. You get stupid, you spin out, which I’ve done.”
Like any competitive sport, its participants can be overcome with fits of passion.
“Sometimes it gets heated.” Yohe said. “Like if they hit you on purpose for no reason. I remember the first time I swore was in front of my dad in a race car. He came down after me, he started screaming, I started screaming. It was a big fiasco, needless to say.”
And they can be overcome with fits of rage.
“Last year a guy spun me out,” Yohe said, remembering a time when his fender had been ripped from the body due to a collision. “We got it on tape, I showed the guy the tape. I took the fender from my car and said, ‘You want it so bad, take it’. That was the last time I saw that guy.”
As for the fender, Yohe just built a new one.
Even with his duties as Marine, Yohe still manages to balance time for racing in the local track at Cocopah, as well as in San Diego, Calif., and Phoenix. All his races, he hope, will lead to his dream ride.
“I’d like to get seat time in a Sprint car,” he said. “They’re basically 850-horsepower go-karts. I want to drive one of those. That’s my goal.”
Until then, Yohe is planning to bring his name to the Perris Auto Speedway in Perris, Calif., in September with his father.