The next Tony Stewart is on the way up.
Or at least that's the way Ryan Bernal sees it.
And looking at the 19-year-old's credentials so far, he might not be far from right.
The teenager from Hollister, Calif., already has a list of accomplishments that would make many seasoned drivers envious, including four championships, and he's looking for more to help him achieve his ultimate goal – NASCAR.
His inspiration, he said, is Stewart.
“His career path is kind of like mine,” said Bernal during an interview with the Yuma Sun. “He did the same things that I've done and he's made his way to NASCAR, and that's what I'm trying to follow, Tony's footsteps.
“NASCAR is my dream. Every kid that races or most of them are trying to head to NASCAR.”
And the road to a NASCAR ride for Bernal runs right through Cocopah Speedway, where he will be competing Friday and Saturday in the 2013 Amsoil USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series for 410 non-winged sprint cars.
In the series, Bernal will go wheel to wheel against some of the fastest, craftiest, most seasoned and successful sprint car drivers in the nation. And he's up for the challenge.
In fact, Bernal said one of his goals in 2013 is to take to the clay at the series' home track, Perris Auto Speedway outside Riverside, Calif., and pull off a win against the likes of five-time USAC/CRA champion Mike Spencer, 24-year-old hot shoe Nic Faas and former USAC/CRA champion Damion Gardner.
“CRA is pretty much the toughest sprint car series in California and there are a few that are really, really tough to beat at Perris,” said Bernal. “They've been running there for years on end.
“So my main goal in CRA this year is to pull off a win at Perris, just so I can open some eyes and show that I can win at Perris.”
So far Bernal's year in CRA has not started out all that good, with a non-Bernal-like showing at Canyon Speedway Park in the Cooper on Dirt event in March, followed by a 17th place finish at Perris the following week.
As a matter of fact, during the feature event at Perris, it was one of those drivers Bernal wants to beat to badly that did him in.
“I got tangled when I was battling with Faas. It was kind of a racing deal, but there are plenty of races left in the season to capitalize on,” said Bernal.
Earlier, at Canyon, “we were struggling a little bit trying to get back in the groove of things,” he said, “but we're getting comfortable again with how everything has been going and I think we will try and give everyone a run for the money in Yuma.”
Like many young drivers, it was Bernal's father who got him hooked on the sport. He took his 3-year-old son to what was known as Baylands Raceway Park in Fremont, Calif., where sprint car legend Jimmy Sills notched 41 feature event wins.
“And I just fell in love with it then,” said Bernal. “And my dad raced when I was younger, so I grew up in the sport.”
Bernal started with quarter midgets, “and I progressed, making my way through the ranks. I ran 360s for two years. In 2012 I had nine (feature event) wins (six 360 wins, two 410s, and a midget win).”
In 2013, he said, he's planning on running the entire Amsoil USAC/CRA Sprint Car Series.
“I'm looking forward to capitalizing this year and trying to pull off a couple more CRA wins,” he said.