LONG POND — Race car driver Jerry Tunney grew up on the local short-tracks around Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Southern Tier of New York. The 19-year-old’s racing journey took him to the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway last July.
Tunney drove the No. 3 Coldwell Banking Chevrolet for RACE 101 in the ARCA Racing Series event at the Midwest track and recorded a 14th-place finish in his series debut. Competing against ARCA’s top teams such as Venturini Motorsports, Mason Mitchell Motorsports and Ken Schrader Racing, just to name a few, he was pleased with the effort in last July’s Ansell ActivArmr 150.
“That was a really good experience for me, personally, to go out there,” Tunney said. “Like everybody else, I grew up on short tracks, so to be able to come out get a feel for the speed and get seat time and learn the aerodynamics at that speed was huge.”
“So I feel like now if we go to a bigger track, I’ve already got my feet wet, so we can go out and right from the beginning focus on being fast and competitive.”
Since the top-15 showing in the ARCA race, Tunney hasn’t been behind the wheel of a race car for an event. On Wednesday, he was spotting for fellow Race 101 student and race car driver Sarah-Cornett Ching at the Pocono ARCA test and learned things he could use to compete someday at the Tricky Triangle.
“I definitely picked up a lot of stuff,” he said. “I haven’t personally run here, but this is the second time I’ve spotted. If I can be up there as a driver and just try to kind of steal a little bit of what they’re doing and kind of figure out what I got to do when I do go out there, I think it will help me a lot.”
Ching and Tunney were both in the same class in 2010 for the RACE 101 program, which develops racers to learn the mechanical, business and driving side of racing. While attending Scranton Prep High School, he received a scholarship to attend the racing school based out of Denver, North Carolina. RACE 101 is an acronym for Research, Analyze, Consult and Educate, 1 On 1. Tony Blanchard runs the program and has been able to provide drivers like Ching and Tunney the opportunity to learn and also compete in select ARCA races for the team.
“Access to learning, teaching them how to learn and that they’re as good as other people,” Blanchard said of his program. “Giving them the possibilities to explore and think out of the box. Give them the chance to not always listen to people and be their own person and follow their dreams.”
Blanchard scored his first-ever top-five finish ARCA in last year when Ross Kenseth, son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth, finished third in the series’ season finale last October at Kansas Speedway.
Although the Kenseths are a household name, the racing flavor is most prevalent in North Carolina, where many of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams are housed in the Charlotte area. At 14, Tunney drove back-and-forth to attend the RACE 101 classes during his high school years. After graduating, the Clarks Summit native took his racing talents to North Carolina to become involved with the epicenter of racing and also further his education at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, majoring in mechanical engineering.
Tunney goes to school with a familiar face at UNCC, fellow NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA driver Matt Tifft. The two met at Chicagoland last July before both learned they would be going to the same college.
With Tunney on the sidelines for the time being, Tifft is competing for Kyle Busch Motorsports in Trucks and Ken Schrader Racing in ARCA and lend the RACE 101 driver a hand while being on the track.
“I think the biggest thing is that he’s been able to listen into my feedback,” Tifft said. “Just listen to the radios of high-caliber teams and be around teams like that where they pay high attention to little details. From what I’ve learned from Kyle [Busch], I’ve told him some stuff and he’s been listening to that, just little things that I think he didn’t have a chance to learn in on before.”
The two drivers share a house for school down at UNCC. While Tifft is in Pennsylvania, he has been staying with Tunney in Clarks Summit, showing that their friendship extends off the track as well.
“We’re really close,” Tifft said. “It’s pretty cool. Hopefully, we can get some things lined up for him so we can race each other on the track. We go go-karting a lot, but it’s not the same as getting in the big cars.”
The short-track views don’t change throughout the country, especially in the Northeast. Tunney competed at Five-Mile Point Speedway, a 1/4-mile dirt track located in Kirkwood, New York, as well as the now-defunct 1/3-mile Evergreen Raceway Park (formerly Mountain Speedway) during his time in the short-rack ranks.
He ran a mini-stock vehicle at Five-Mile Point in 2010 before running a late model during the 2011 and the beginning of the 2012 season at Mountain. The RACE 101 graduate also raced some at Bethel Motor Speedway in White Lake, New York during his Northeast racing days.
He may not be behind the wheel of a race car at the moment, but Tunney continues to work hard to put something together to allow him to run more races and gain valuable track time.
“In today’s world, business is 90 percent of the racing right now,” he said. “Just trying to get that all solidified, working on that. Once that’s in place, I can really start to focus on putting races together and going fast again.”