At one stage of his life Watertown native Josh Van Brocklin thought his athletic future would involve skates, sticks and pucks.
A defenseman for Immaculate Heart Central in the mid-1990s, Van Brocklin played some junior hockey with the Brockville (Ontario) Braves and was invited to teen tryout camps that included athletes like former Clarkson standout Erik Cole.
But a hockey career never panned out for Van Brocklin who instead turned to his summer hobby of auto racing. But Van Brocklin was not behind the wheel, rather he spent many years working on the crew for his father, John, or his uncle, Tim.
About six years ago, Van Brocklin, 34, decided to get in his uncles sportsman car and see how hed do and now he has found his athletic niche, competing every Friday night at the Mohawk International Raceway in Akwesasne and most Saturdays at Can-Am Motorsports Park in LaFargeville.
My uncle and my father were involved for about 25 years, Van Brocklin said. I was always more of a crew type person. I grew up with it. I had a concept of what things you should do, just being able to read the track. You know the right people who can help you when you have problems.
I dont think (going from crew to driving) happens a lot. Once you go that long, thats just what you do. You have your drivers, and guys that work on cars. A lot of the people Im racing against, the younger guys, a lot of them started out in a class and moved up to another class and then they moved into the sportsman class. I just worked on the car and got in and started driving. You dont see that too often.
It did not take long for Van Brocklin to become a competitive racer, and last year, he won his first points title at Can-Am, winning eight of his 17 starts, finishing in the top five in 15 and in the top 10 in every race.
We thought we were a good third-place car, Van Brocklin said. The year before we were second in points. We had six or eight second-place finishes. Whoever got out front, first, was going to win. We knew we had something for Can-Am. There were only 12 or 14 cars. We were on a setup on the car that goes to the turns good at Can-Am. Thats where we make our ground up. It just worked out. We didnt expect that at the beginning, by any means.
Can-Am is no longer affiliated with the World Racing Group (DIRT Motorsports), so Van Brocklin moved his focus this season to Mohawk International Raceway, which still is affiliated with the group.
Heading into this week, Van Brocklin had taken part in only four of the six sportsman races at Can-Am, but was in second place in the standings at MIR with 158 points, 23 behind first-place Dylan Evoy.
A two-hour drive after work on Friday night is tough, but were sticking with that, said Van Brocklin, who oversees the service department at Fucillo Mitsubishi in Watertown. Its a lot smaller track, a shorter, wider track. Its a real nice facility. They put a lot of money into it. Its really state-of-the-art stuff. Everythings new and clean. Dylan Evoy, the track champ there last year, won 14 races. Hes there again this year. I think well be able to give him a good run. He knows the track. Thats been his home track.
As for Van Brocklins first sport, even though he never worked his way to the National Hockey League as he may have dreamed as a kid, he still loves the game.
I still play in a mens league, Van Brocklin said.
TRACKS BACK IN ACTION
Three north country speedways will try again this weekend after rain canceled their programs last Saturday.
Mohawk International Speedway has a regular racing program scheduled to begin tonight at 7:45. The highlight on the schedule is the first round of Frenchies Ford Drive One sportsman series. There also will be racing in the modifieds, pro stocks, bandits and mod lites. The first kids tire race also will be held.
Can-Am Motorsports Park in LaFargeville will have a full night of racing. The Dig Safely New York admission voucher will be honored for Saturdays racing. The voucher was to be used for last weeks racing program but it was rained out.
On Wednesday night, the second SUNY Canton Shootout even will be at Can-Am. There will be a 45-lap big-block modified feature paying $3,000 to win with an additional $500 bonus available for the first 358-modified to cross the finish line. Racing will also be held in the 35-lap sportsman feature with $1,000 going to the winner.
Both divisions will run an open tire rule. The modified winner will be a guaranteed starter in the SUNY Canton Hurricane 100 at Brewerton Speedway on Oct. 4. Racing will also be held in the pro street division with a pro street versus pro stock challenge with the winner collecting $750. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m.
Evans Mills Speedway will hold its weekly racing program Saturday night with a full racing program. The speedway has moved its enduro race to June 23. Racing gets under way at 6.