Welcome to the life of Brisbane born and bred Tomas ‘Tommy’ Gasperak Jnr. This fifteen year old balances school with high-speed SuperUtes and he isn’t even eligible for his learner licence yet. Tommy is an award-winning race car driver with over seventy podium appearances, and there is no doubt that this teen has a big future, approaching faster than most.
Tommy’s love of racing began at the early age of nine years old, after begging his parents to let him race go-karts. Tommy grew up watching Formula 1 racing with his dad, and his love for the sport grew from there. Unlike most children aged nine, Tommy’s interests were far-removed from the usual ball sports, as he quickly realised that being buckled into the driver’s seat of a 200km/h car was where he’d rather be. Tommy’s family quickly saw where his talents were brewing and decided to give him every opportunity they possibly could to foster his career in racing. Tommy’s mother Michelle said, “It’s our job to nurture that and support him, [he needs to] give it his best shot!”.
It’s easy to see where Tommy’s humble and hardworking nature stems from, as his family offers undying support for his career in racing. Tommy shows maturity beyond his years both on and off the track. When asked if he ever gets scared behind the wheel, he quickly responds, “No!” and proceeds to tell a story that would rattle even the most talented drivers. Tommy says that one day while racing, he ended up touching a wall at Queensland Raceway after hurtling down the straight at over 200km/h with, as he discovered, no working brakes. One might expect a fifteen year old in a car travelling at that speed to hit the panic button and wind up hurt, but this was far from true. Tommy’s father chimes in with, “He did well. He put the car sideways, washed some speed off, went into the gravel and slowed it down; he kept it together.” Tommy adds, with a chuckle, “The moral of this story is to always check the cap is on your brake fluid”.
Tommy sat down with Brisbane Athletes to shed light on what it really takes to be a champion race car driver at just fifteen years of age.
Tommy, what are some of the physical demands that racing presents for you?
Well, its kind of funny because a lot of people think you just sit in the car and drive. They think it’s not a very physically demanding sport but some of the V8 car drivers are crazy fit. You need core [strength] to hold your body in place. In certain cars you need to push 60kg or 70kg of pressure just to brake, and that’s with one foot. People forget that we don’t just drive for a few laps. Sometimes we drive for two hours straight, and you come out with bruises all of over your back and shoulders from the force.
How do you prepare your body to race?
Well, swimming is great because it’s an all-round, non-impact muscular workout; it’s really helpful to target all my muscles at once. I do gym work a lot; I focus on legs, core and arms when I’m at the gym. I have quite a long driveway at home, so I do short sprints up and down that. I do circuits and weights to target specific areas I need to focus on.
Run me through your mind-set before, during and after a race?
Well, before a race I get butterflies in my stomach; I’m a bit nervous at the time, but really excited! Once I’m on the track the nerves go away, and then afterwards I just wanna keep racing [Laughs].
Do you have a reflection period after your race? What does it look like?
After I race, my race engineer sits with me and we go through data; what parts of the track I can race faster, what part need to be slower: all the technical sides of driving. When I’m alone I think about what I can do with my mind to help during the race, but I also really enjoy the technical side of things.
Do you ever get stuck in your own head?
I’m able to control my nerves. I think through what could happen in every situation: crashing, getting hurt—stuff like that—but I always have a plan. I’ve learnt that if you plan you will succeed.
How does the feeling of getting in these SuperUtes compare to when you were younger and first experienced go-kart racing?
When I first got in a go-kart I loved it; going around the corners, passing three or four people each lap was fun. It ended up being easier to count the people I wasn’t passing. And now I get the same feeling, I just love it.
What do your friends and family think of you racing?
I get a lot of support from everyone. My dad will ring me before races and give me some support—it helps keep my head clear. Some of my friends think it’s a waste of fuel [Laughs] and some think it’s really exciting. I got one of my friends to try out go-karting but that didn’t end too well…it’s a lot harder than people expect.
How do the other competitors treat you on the track?
Well, everyone that races is older than me. Some of the guys are eighteen, nineteen, but some are thirty-five, forty; they’ve been racing for quite a while. Some people keep to themselves, some drivers will talk to other drivers, some will congratulate me, but most will just keep to themselves. Everyone is just trying to maintain concentration. I can tell some of the other competitors think I’m the ‘new kid on the block’, and that they’ve gotta show me who’s boss [Laughs]. Most of them are really respectful; it’s a great culture.
What encouragement would you give to a young, aspiring athlete?
I’d tell ‘em, it’s about keeping on going no matter what. You’ll get confused as to why you didn’t win a particular race, and sometimes you won’t win for a few races, but at the end of it all, it’s just not your day; they can’t all be yours.
At such a young age, Tommy is already an accomplished racer with various accolades under his belt and no doubt more to follow.
As the youngest licenced KZ2 kart driver, Tommy has achieved more than the average 11th grader. In 2016 Tommy took the Rotax Pro Tour Junior Max Queensland title, before making the trek to the United States to race NASCARS.
Tommy recently raced in the Adelaide 500 V8 SuperUtes competition where he raced a Holden Colorado that drove him to finish in 7th place with 260 points. During his second event he shaved seven seconds off his fastest lap time; an impressive feat for a young driver.
Tommy is already experiencing massive attention from press and news outlets like FOX Sports; he has also generated a widespread fan base that spans across Australia. Tommy reveals that he heard a few girls yelling out for him in Adelaide after he finished his first race.
For most young athletes this would be distracting and divert their attention, but Tommy remains humble and level-headed and very ready to step up and represent sponsors.
With eyes on the future, Tommy is keen on a career with NASCAR. Having spent six months in North Carolina signed to NASCAR’s driver development program, there is no doubt that international eyes will be glued to the young driver while they follow his journey from textbooks to top-speed engines.
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