Brotherly ties drive racer

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:39 PM ET

EDMONTON - This Light is for you, Arturo.

Saturday and Sunday, Stefan Rzadzinski, an 18-year-old Edmontonian, will drive the first and second Firestone Indy Lights races of his career here.

And for brother Arturo and his parents, Andy and Magda, who have somehow managed to keep their oldest son's dream alive while dealing with the family situation which challenged them all, this is a story of more than a sporting triumph.

"My brother is 14, very autistic, and we just got the diagnosis last month," said Rzadzinski.

"A big part of what I'll be doing this weekend will be for my whole family, especially my brother.

"Growing up, Arturo has never been able to talk. They called him development delayed. Only last month he was diagnosed as autistic. It's been so difficult for the family to deal with and at the same time support me. I want to make them all very proud.

"I'm dedicating these races to Arturo and my parents."

There are a lot of rich kids in auto racing, but the best stories are the kids who have to somehow find their own financing to fuel their dream and develop to the point where sponsors see value in supporting them.

Anne Roy, the general manager of the Edmonton Indy, knows them well. And she and her boss at Octane Motorsports Events, as well as co-sponsor Northgate Industries, are most responsible for giving Edmonton fans a racer to relate to and hopefully to follow until he makes it to the big-league IZOD IndyCar Series itself.

I'm guessing it takes about $45,000 to put the kid in the Davey Hamilton No. 32 car for these two races and the new promoter of the Edmonton race is putting up about two thirds of it. He's an investment.

"I'm basically trying to put this kid on the map," said Roy. "He doesn't come from family money."

She goes way back with Alex Tagliani, the Montreal driver who this year won the pole at the Indy 500.

"When he was 13, he bought himself a little three-piece suit which he wore to school on days when he planned to visit a company at the end of the business day. The kids laughed at him but when school got out he'd go to the 14th floor of an office building and wait for the CEO to come out to get a minute to try sell him on sponsorship to race go-karts," she said.

For the three years of ChampCar Series racing in Edmonton, Roy headed up the Atlantic Series, their version of Indy Lights.

A combination of local auto racing's Mike Cockrall and an e-mail to Roy from the kid himself launched the project.

"Stefan told me he thought he was good enough to race Indy Lights but he didn't have the money," said Roy.

She strapped herself into a rally car and watched him drive the Stratotech course at Fort Sask. and saw the talent of the kid immediately.

"He is one of the most skilled young racers I have ever seen," she said.

For Rzadzinski, racing the Indy Lights races at the City Centre Airport track brings it full circle for the family, too.

"My dad raced there once when I was about six," said the kid who attended the first four Edmonton races but missed the last two while away racing.

"My dad loved racing. We used to sit together and watch Formula One racing at 6 a.m. I always wanted to be a racecar driver."

His dad got him into go-karts and he worked his way up to Formula Fords, becoming the first to represent Canada at the world junior in Italy, finishing 16th of 52.

Racing Formula Fords in six weekends and 12 races in Ontario in 2009, he won the same rookie of the year award Paul Tracy once won.

Last year he won one of six scholarships to the Skip Barber Racing School Shootout, racing Formula 2000 cars, where he did exceptionally well.

But it's a big jump to Indy Lights.

"I don't think they thought I could make this much of a jump," he said of going for his Indy Lights licence last week at a track outside Indianapolis.

"I think they were a bit surprised. I jumped about two steps to get to this step. Both of these races will be the longest ones I've ever driven as well.

"These two races are important for me, for people to know who I am," he said of hoping his performance inspires strong local sponsorship to enter the entire Indy Lights series, including the support race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year.

"I'm going to win the Indy 500 someday."

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones


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