Renowned Australian Sprint Car owner Sean Carren was close to putting his racing days behind him.
He’d accomplished a lot but also lost a lot. His driver, Darryl Krikke, and Krikke’s cousin were killed in a car crash on their way to the racetrack in 1997. Carren continued on but recently hadn’t put a car on track in a few years.
Then, rival car owner Geoff Kendrick and American-Aussie Lynton Jeffrey came with a proposition: field a car for the 2020-2021 Western Australia Sprintcar Speedweek championship – a feat Carren had yet to accomplish.
The driver: Jonestown, PA’s Brock Zearfoss – primed for his rookie season with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, starting at Volusia Speedway Park, Feb. 5-7, during the 50th DIRTcar Nationals.
Carren didn’t know Zearfoss. And Zearfoss didn’t know Carren. He hadn’t even been to Australia.
One day in November, Jeffrey texted Zearfoss to ask if he would be interested in running Down Under. Without hesitation, Zearfoss said, “yes!” They got to work looking for a ride, only to have the first four deals fall through.
On Thanksgiving night, with about a week left to make a deal, Zearfoss and Carren were connected for the first time. They discussed the idea and its logistics, and while the conversation went well, Zearfoss said it still wasn’t a done deal by the end of the call.
Carren didn’t take long to make his decision, though. Two days later, he gave Zearfoss the green light.
“Hell, I left December 7,” Zearfoss said. “It was a pretty tight window.”
In that time frame, from when Carren gave him the good news, Zearfoss had to get a visa, get an exemption and get a letter from the Australian government to travel over.
“Everything leading up to the travel was pretty hectic,” he said. “Especially when we only had like two weeks to do it. Just not a lot of time. I didn’t think it was going to happen to be honest.”
When he finally made the continental leap to Australia, he had to quarantine for two weeks. Speedweek started three days after his quarantine ended. With those few days to spare, Carren picked up Zearfoss from his isolation, meeting each other face to face for the first time, and they immediately got to work.
Zearfoss found instant comfort in Carren’s car. He had his own seat, brought his own shocks and the two discussed ahead of time the bar package they should run to make the American feel at home in Australia. The few differences with the car he had to adjust to were the dish wings and different tire package. Also, he faced a stiff group of drivers he’d never raced against and a new set of tracks he’d never seen.
Finding chemistry with Carren and his team helped with the learning curve.
“Everybody that helped on the car, they were really nice and made me feel welcomed,” Zearfoss said. “We just all worked together, which made life easier. We all had fun racing. We knew what we were there to do. That made the whole transition of coming over and racing easier, I would say. I had no clue who any of them were and they thought I was just some Yankee.
“Everybody’s personalities, they all mixed. We all enjoyed each other’s company. It was good to have that. When you go into a situation like that and you don’t know who anyone is, that could make or break the whole deal. We just all had open minds with everything and enjoyed the time we were actually there to race.”
As added pressure or motivation, Carren decided to run the #95 on Zearfoss’s car – the number used by Krikke before he died. Carren had only run the #95 a few times after Krikke’s death but felt it would be a nice way to honor the family by running it again.
“It was a very special deal,” Zearfoss said. “For the Carren family, it was really special to run the number 95 over there to honor the Krikke family and their son.”
When Zearfoss finally hit the track for the first time on Dec. 26 at Perth Motorplex, he showed he wasn’t just another “Yankee.” He showed he had Aussie Grit, finishing third in his debut, behind the likes of Callum Williamson and James McFadden.
The next night at Perth, a second. Then, another second at Quit Bunbury City Speedway. And, then, Zearfoss let loose. The Jonestown Jet opened his thrusters and broke the sound barrier of screaming fans around the world, winning the final three races of Speedweek – first at Ellenbrook Speedway and then two nights at Perth.
His eye-widening performance resulted in being crowned the 2020-2021 WA Sprintcar Speedweek champion.
“It’s very special,” Zearfoss said about the accomplishment. “I didn’t expect to go over and win the Speedweek championship. The competition in Australia is just as tough as it is over here (in the U.S.). It’s just like when you go to a racetrack and you race against the locals there. They have the advantage. They race there every week. You’re at a disadvantage. But we had really good equipment and the people that were involved, they gave me a good car every time.
“It was very special to win the points championship and to get three wins, too. That’s quite an accomplishment on my end. That just shows how good the team did and was able to be competitive right off the bat. You don’t go over there and expect to finish on the podium every night. That’s kind of unheard of anymore. Everything is so equal, and the drivers are so good today. It makes it difficult to perform like that. It was a good experience.”
Zearfoss’s joy was shared with Carren, who was given his first Speedweek championship, and with Aussies happy to see the #95 find success again.
“They (the Carren’s) were trying for a long time to win the Speedweek championship,” Zearfoss said. “To give them the championship and to do it with the number 95, that made it really special. It was special to me, too.”
Now, back in the U.S., Zearfoss will try to manifest that success again in his own Brock Zearfoss Racing #3z car for the 2021 90-plus event World of Outlaws tour and try to claim the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Award.
“Anytime you can run good, it just helps boost your confidence,” Zearfoss said. “And you hope to keep that flowing and keep it going into whatever you have next. It was good for me to get over there and start the year out right and run as good as we did to keep my confidence high. I can tell you that I’m ready to get going now, more than I ever was.
“To have the run that we did over there, my confidence is really high right now. When you have good runs like that, everyone involved, whether it’s the team, the driver, anybody, your sponsors. They’re all excited. It keeps the morale up for everybody. They all look forward to getting back to the racetrack and to do that. It was good for me as a driver and good for everybody on my team to have the good run we had in Australia to help boost us into our rookie season.”
The hassle and scrambling to make his Australian trip happen resulted in more trophies than Zearfoss brought home. He gave himself more confidence, gave his team more confidence, gave his fans more confidence, earned new fans in the process and increased his stock as a top rookie contender. But the most glamourous trophies were the ones he gave to Carren and the Krikke family.
Carren was close to putting his racing days behind him. Then, an unexpected partnership brought success and meaningful joy.
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