Early this season, Dos Palos' Ryan Hart slid away from dirt track racing and attacked the pavement.
It's a move successfully accomplished by few in stock car racing.
At first, there were heart-breaking moments. Hart, a champion on dirt at Merced and Chowchilla speedways, found himself at the rear of the field on the paved surface of Madera Speedway.
"I was a back of the packer," he saidd. "I went to Madera not knowing what to expect. I actually got lapped. That hadn't happened in years. I was used to bringing home trophies. The first month was discouraging."
Ryan didn't get disheartened.
He took the challenge.
On Saturday, Hart is in a spot most racers would want to be in. He's got Rookie of the Year sewed up. He's also the track's most improved driver. And he's battling for the Madera Speedway hobby stock track championship, a few beats behind seasoned veteran Frank Mazzei of Clovis.
Winning all three would be unprecedented. The fairy-tale story doesn't end there. Hart has won the last six feature events after Mazzei won the first six of the season.
The road to success took extra work. A full-time student at Merced Junior College, Hart will graduate this year with an associate degree in Criminology. When he wasn't studying, he was at Madera Speedway practicing.
Hart's love -- his '76 Camaro -- may look like a nicely restored old car, but underneath the sheet metal are a meticulously maintained 355-cubic-inch V-8 engine, and the latest in pavement-racing suspension components.
It was "setting up" the car's suspension for pavement that was the biggest challenge.
Hart and crew chief J.T. Robinson of Merced, friends since middle school, shared determination in learning to go fast on pavement.
"We spent all our spare time at the track tuning and testing," said Hart. "It was more time spent in two months than I devoted racing on dirt for the last two seasons. We learned quickly that skill and precision play great roles in pavement racing."
Even with all the extra work, Hart wasn't where he needed to be until mid-season.
What made the difference?
Mazzei and his crew chief, Jeff Eldridge, took a road trip to Merced, where Hart keeps his car at his father's business. They helped Hart change the chassis set-up on his car. Two weeks later, on his mom Barb's birthday, Hart beat Mazzei and began his six-feature streak.
"He (Mazzei) saw me struggling and asked if he could help," Hart said. "That's unheard of in this day and age. So, I accepted his offer. We gained a great set of friends."
Mazzei, the track's three-time champion, is known for winning and giving his trophies away to children in the stands. Helping Hart, a few decades younger, was a natural gesture.
"I saw a likeable kid who was having a hard time grasping the concepts of pavement racing," said Mazzei. "I race to have fun. I don't want to dominate. I want competition."