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Hapa Racecar Driver Ryan Ellis Is On The Fast Track

Photo: Courtesy of APR Motorsports
Professional racecar driver Ryan Ellis (left) is on the fast track to making a name for himself in the competitive Grand Am scene.

Ryan Ellis has been racing since the age of 4 and is now one of several drivers racing in the 2012 Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge with the Insight Racing team.

By Nalea J. Ko, Pacific Citizen Reporter
April 20, 2012

Before he could walk Ryan Ellis would crawl to his Power Wheels motorcycle and maneuver it with the skill of a professional, driving it so often he wore the wheels thin.

The Hapa racecar driver was so fixated with his toy cars and motorcycles that he gave each a name. It was a prophetic sign of his racecar career to come.

“My parents used to always buy me stuffed animals, but I never really liked stuffed animals. I was always running around with little mini motorcycles or mini match box cars,” said Ryan. “I’d always end up sleeping with them and wake up with motorcycle or car prints on my face instead of a stuffed animal like a normal kid.”

A third generation racecar driver, the 22-year-old’s prowess on the track at a young age was fitting since racing runs in his blood.

Ryan’s two biological grandfathers both were lured to the racetrack in their lifetime. His maternal grandfather, Fred Isamu, used to work for Toyota Motors after moving with his wife, Aiko, to California from Japan in 1951.

“He died before Ryan raced,” said Aiko Hayashi, Ryan’s grandmother, about her late husband.

On his father’s side, Ryan’s paternal grandfather began his racecar career in the 1940s. Midget racing was Vic Ellis’ forte, and in 1952 he won the Badger Midget Championship. He eventually moved on to drive the CAPCO Sprint Car. Ryan’s paternal grandfather, however, died in a racetrack accident in 1958.

Both grandfathers did not live to see Ryan race.

“I think there’s a family spirit there that’s lasted through the generations and I think call it what you want, but I think he’s probably watched over me during my years and watching over Ryan in his career,” said Jim Ellis, who also raced professionally, about his late father.

After moving from California to Virginia, Ryan nearly won his first Quarter Midgets race, the QMA Dirt National Championship, when he entered at about the age of 4. For seven years Ryan raced Quarter Midgets and earned the title of all-time AMA leader in the state.

Now Ryan is making a name for himself in the Grand Am scene. The Hapa driver won the Grand Am ST Rookie of the Year in 2011.

“Ryan is a diverse driver,” said Brandon Dickson, Insight Racing team manager. “If he keeps his head on straight and he takes advantage of his teammates around him who have years and years of experience I think Ryan’s career can go really far.”

This year Ryan is set to burn up the racetrack on April 27-29 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway where he’ll be driving for Insight Racing. He will do so with the spirit of his grandfathers by his side. All three grandfathers’ — his two biological grandfathers and step-grandfather — names are marked on his helmet.

But despite having the skill to drive with the pros, Ryan says the financial expense of motorsports is weighing on his family.  

Also a college student at George Mason University, Ryan is studying marketing and hopes to use his education to learn more about the sponsorship side of motorsports.

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