When Nick Persing was 6 months old, his dad Jon, could drive for several hours in golden silence. But as soon as the car started slowing down, Nick would start crying. At 8 months, Nick sat in his battery-charged toy car and drove it back and forth on the driveway, for hours on end.
Even at this tender age, Nick had the need for speed and a love for cars. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Nick—a Sobrato High junior—is competing in FIA Formula 4, one of the nation’s top entry level open-wheel race car series. A member of the Velocity Racing Development (VRD) team, Persing displayed his vast skill set as he earned a pair of top four performances in the final round of the Circuit of Americas in October, including a second-place showing that he said was the highlight of his season.
Having the body of a football player—Persing is a solid 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds—doesn’t lend itself to an advantage on the track. However, Persing has made the best of his situation.
“For the most part, you want to be as light as possible in the race car,” he said. “So this year my main goal is trying to lose weight. I’ve been working out, dieting, and if I can get down to 185, I’d be on weight is what I know. When you’re really tall but also heavy, the way it affects the chassis and driveability of a car is completely different compared to a smaller driver. When you’re in such a light kart with less horsepower, the power to weight ratio is pretty massive, and being tall doesn’t help because the wind drag can be greater, too.”
When Persing first started racing go karts at age 8, he went through a steep learning curve due to his big frame. Over time, he’s developed his skills to the point where he’s confident in making smarter decisions on the track.
“When to pass and when to save tires is the hardest thing to learn in the race car,” he said. “Being overweight in my early years, I had to learn to compensate somehow, and it helped me a lot because I had to learn to be smarter on the track.”
If Persing continues to improve and race at a high level, he would eventually apply to compete in the Formula Regional (FR) Americas Championship or USF2000 Championship series. The former aids a racer’s career advancement in F1; the latter in IndyCar.
Only a handful of student-athletes from the South Valley have ever made it to the NFL and MLB, and only one—1996 Champ Car World Series champion and former Live Oak product Jimmy Vasser—has has earned a coveted ride in a top professional open-wheel series. Persing would love nothing more than to join that elite company.
“There are a bunch of different ladder systems to get to the top, so I’m looking and trying to find the best option to get me ahead,” he said.
Persing will compete for two different teams this year, the aforementioned F4 and also for Nash Motorsportz out of Riverside. When Persing isn’t practicing or racing for VRD in F4 or FR Americas Championship series, he’ll be competing for Nash in a go kart, which tests his abilities in a different way.
“F4 is obviously my priority, but karting is extremely physical and a great way to stay in shape,” he said. “In F4, there is a lot more precision in the driving, whereas in go karts it’s a completely different skill set. The breaking, the throttle, the steering, it’s all different in a go kart.”
Persing said he can experience up to three Gs in a go kart going 90 mph, while his open-wheel VRD race car can reach up to 140 mph. Persing started competing in local races at Sonoma Raceway starting at 8 before he moved up to the national circuit at 13. Despite the ups and downs of the sport, Persing knows all of the work he’s put into it is worth it. His love affair for all things cars literally goes to his first year of life.
“(After he was born) the only way to get him to sleep at times was to drive my car on the highway,” said Jon Persing, Nick’s dad. “He lives to drive anything. If it has wheels on it, he’ll drive it.”
For the last year, Jon and Nick have been working on a Porsche 944—Jon bought it wrecked—and the two have been fixing it up ever since.
“It’s been our project,” Nick said. “Cars have always been a part of my life because of dad. Driving something fast is always something I’ve loved since I was a little kid. Even now if I go to the (Santa Cruz) Beach Boardwalk, the first thing I’ll do is drive the bumper cars. Anything related to racing, my first instinct is to go figure it out and do it. I love things with all engines pretty much.”