Skyline grad going strong after first Formula series win

April 27, 2010

By Christopher Huber

When David Cheng, of Sammamish, won his first Pacific Formula 2000 race March 6 in Fontana, Calif., his operations manager, Dan Gulickson, cried for hours.

Emotions ran high as Cheng, 20, and his crew had to adapt to last-minute monsoon-like conditions and drive intelligently to beat out the competition. In the final lap, he had a 20-second lead, but the flagger had not put out the white flag to signal the last lap, Cheng said. He slowed down a bit, confused and trying to stay ahead. With no windshield, water sprayed in his face at up to 160 miles per hour. But he still managed to cross the finish line first.

“I’m not losing this … I’m not losing this,” Cheng told himself in the car’s cockpit. “You need incredible mental concentration.”

After meeting at Chrysalis School in Woodinville, Cheng and Gulickson, his former teacher, teamed up to pursue both of their passions: speed.

“With racing, I always loved it,” said Cheng, a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, who found an interest in racing at age 6.

Gulickson, a Klahanie resident, helped Cheng rise through the racing-circuit ranks and eventually go pro in 2009.

Racecar driver David Cheng, of Sammamish (left), and Dan Gulickson, mentor and operations manager, celebrate after Cheng’s first Formula 2000 series win March 6 in Fontana, Calif. Contributed

The victory was the culmination of years of long hours on the road, pricey investments and a sheer determination to pursue their dream of professional racing.

“It was by far the best moment of my life,” Cheng said upon returning home from Cal Speedway in California.

Gulickson, who doesn’t have children, said mentoring Cheng is like working with one of his own. He’s like a dad watching his son achieve a dream, he said.

“I love him like my own,” Gulickson said.

The two have worked with other Cheng Racing team members since 2006 as Cheng raced go-cart style autocross, Karting Rotax International class and Skip Barber racing circuits. Each one was a step up — in speed, car style and financial commitment — from the last, Cheng and Gulickson said. After just three races — he’s raced in seven total — at the F2000 level, Cheng earned Rookie of the Year accolades, Gulickson and Cheng said.

“Skip (Barber) is like the first couple of years at UW. We’re at grad school now,” Gulickson said. “To me, it’s the epitome of a team sport.”

Racing a Formula car is much different from a go-cart-style racecar, Cheng said. His new car, racing since late 2009, goes up to 160 mph on straightaways, corners better the faster you go and doesn’t have a speedometer. The 1,000-pound machine can pull 3-Gs around a corner, Gulickson said. It’s not as much about going fast as it is about driving well and pushing the threshold of fear, they said.

“You push the car to the limit and then you wanna go out there and push it some more,” Cheng said. “You’re always riding the edge. That is the fun part. And that’s the hardest part.”

He doesn’t spend all of his time traveling and racing. Cheng said he manages to continue his education at the UW taking online classes. He’s got a strong work ethic that helps him on the track, but also affects life outside the racing world, Gulickson said.

“You get as much out of it as you put in,” Cheng said.

Next up, Cheng plans to enter more international races, including some in China, where his parents live. They want to be able to see him race, Cheng said.

The Chengs moved to the Seattle area from Beijing when David was 6, he said. He attended Challenger Elementary School, Beaver Lake Middle School and Skyline High School.

The two said they feel lucky to be doing what they love. Most youth only dream of racing, Cheng said.

“It’s almost every kid’s dream and I get to live it out,” he said.

On the Web

Watch David Cheng race at www.youtube.com/watch?v=er_Rn0DMhg0.

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