Jonathan Bates Jr. does not believe his fellow race car drivers take him too seriously when they glance his way and see an 11-year-old kid behind the wheel. But their demeanors quickly change, said Bates, once he speeds by them on the race track and flashes his wide grin.
“I am still new at this, and I am still learning a lot,” Bates said from his home in Sheridan, Arkansas. “My goal is to win every race, and I hope to win soon.”
Driving his 2003 red and white Cobalt in the Hot Shots Division, Bates has raced four times this season at the Greenville Speedway. His best finish has been fourth place.
Bates thanks his father and grandfather for giving him confidence behind the wheel.
Bates’ grandfather, Jimbo Wrinkle, races in the Outlaw Hobby Division and has been a force at the Greenville Speedway for many years. Last year, Wrinkle won first place at the Gumbo Nationals.
Bates’ father, meanwhile, Jonathan Sr., is an accomplished driver in the Crate Division.
The family, from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, comes to Greenville most weekends because they have such an affinity for the track.
“I really enjoy coming to Greenville because they have a great race track. I have a lot of fun every time I race,” Bates said.
While most children his age would be scared to take the wheel, Bates said he has learned to calm his nerves once he starts his engine.
“I think a big reason why I am not scared when I race is because I have been watching my father and grandfather for so many years,” Bates said. “They have taught me the right way to race.”
Bates started racing go karts a few years ago, and did so well that he moved up the ranks quickly.
Driving actual race cars seemed like the natural next step.
Last year at the Gumbo Nationals at Greenville Speedway, Bates was in the passenger seat of local driver Chris Showah’s Hot Shot race car. While driving with Showah, Bates received an up close view of what it is like to race at much higher speeds.
“I learned a lot last year while driving with him, and now I get to drive my own car,” Bates said.
“I love racing and when I grow up I want to continue what I am doing on an even bigger stage.”