La Mirada~Zooming across a black-and-white checkered finish line at 140 miles an hour in a 400-horsepower car is not unusual for La Mirada High School sophomore Ryan Vargas, who’s been racing since he was 11.
“Growing up, I always loved monster trucks, demolition derbies and Thomas the Tank Engine,” Ryan said. “When my dad took me to a NASCAR event at Irwindale Speedway, I found out that kids could actually race cars and saw it as an opportunity to do something I loved.”
Since then, Ryan has tied for national championships in the Bandolero division in 2014, set five track records across Nevada, California and Arizona, and earned Rookie of the Year in 2015 at The Bullring at Las Vegas. In 2016, he competed in 27 races, placing in the top five 12 times and top 10 25 times, along with reaching fifth place in the California state standings.
Most recently, he was awarded the Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award by NASCAR, which recognizes a high-performing minority or female driver contributing on and off the track in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
“I’m just really, really thankful,” Ryan said. “Being selected to receive this amazing award is such an honor in my life and in my career.”
Racing cars also gave Ryan an opportunity to raise awareness of Down syndrome. In November of 2016, Ryan met a family whose son, Zachary, was born with Down Syndrome. When Ryan found out the family was involved with the nonprofit organization The Upside of Down, he decided to support the cause.
“When I saw Zachary playing with my old monster truck cars, I wanted to give him the experience that I have when I’m racing cars,” Ryan said. “I want to support their cause to make people aware of Down syndrome and grasp hold of what to expect when they have a child with Down Syndrome.”
If he’s not at a race track, Ryan’s spending his time maintaining a 4.0 gpa and studying for two honors classes and a pre-Advanced Placement course. After school, he’s practicing and competing on La Mirada High’s track and field team. This is all on top of finding racing sponsorships and funding, which typically go toward new tires and fuel for every race.
“I know racing takes a lot of effort and time from me and my parents, and I’m always going to work my hardest because I know my parents are doing the same for me,” Ryan said. “My parents are working overtime to support my racing and I can’t be more thankful for their support.”
Ryan wants to eventually move up the ranks in NASCAR, and if he’s unable to reach the top tiers, he’ll still find a career working with automobiles.
“I love cars – I always have as a kid and I still do now,” Ryan said. “That will never change.”