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Clarkson Students chase racing careers

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POTSDAM — A pair of Clarkson University students, past and present, are working their way up in the automobile racing world in different ways.

Freshman Mike Maresca, a Potsdam native, has been competing as a driver at area DIRT tracks for a few years now and is learning more about his sport through his studies at Clarkson.

Former Clarkson men’s hockey player Tom Pizzo is now living in Charlotte, N.C., and learning how to become a member of a pit crew with the hopes of someday working at the top level of NASCAR.

“Eventually I’ll be able to take all the stuff I learn at school and hopefully apply it to a race car and get a better car,” said Maresca, who is studying mechanical engineering.

“I’m learning everything from the way a car handles, from the forces on it, to the motor. I’ve always been interested in stuff that goes, so it’s a degree where I can make stuff go.”

Pizzo, a lifelong racing fan, is applying things he learned from competing on Clarkson’s hockey team to his new sport.

“It’s not as exhausting as playing hockey, but you have to have a strong upper body to swing a tire around and get lug nuts,” Pizzo said.

“A lot of the conditioning and workout regimen is similar. They want you to be in shape. A lot of stuff I learned in hockey has translated pretty well, in terms of flexibility, being agile and explosive. It’s a team. You are going over the wall with two changers, two carriers, a jack man and a gas man. It’s choreographed. You have to be on the ball and all be doing the same thing in order to make it successful. If one guy doesn’t do a good job it’s going to slow the whole team. It’s similar to how in hockey you have six guys on the ice.”

Maresca had already enjoyed some success as a racer before he even arrived at Clarkson. He was the 2012 Rookie of the Year at Boston Speedway and the 2013 Rookie of the Year at the Mohawk International Raceway in Hogansburg.

“(Studying) is an advantage, but nothing really compares to the actual physical hands-on stuff that those guys have learned over the years racing,” Maresca said.

Last summer, Maresca competed regularly at Mohawk in the sportsman division and at Evans Mills Speedway in the legends division.

He was seventh in points at Mohawk and 13th at Evans Mills.

“Most racers around here don’t race for a living, you work on (the car) when you get off work and you try to make it out of the shop as much as you can,” Maresca said. “Your live revolves around it. It’s awesome. I’ve been around racing since I was born. I couldn’t quit racing.”

Pizzo, who is studying at the XCaliber Pit School, has also followed the sport since he was a child.

“It’s a five-week program,” Pizzo said of the school. “From that point you start doing stuff. It’s still ongoing. There are a lot of intricacies in knowing when a car comes in, when you can’t pit it, the rules and regulations and stuff (casual fans) wouldn’t really know. They teach you what it takes to be successful in pit crewing and a lot of it is mental.”

Whenever Pizzo is placed on a pit team he will likely work his way to the ARCA series, which is a minor-league level of NASCAR.

“From that point you try to get in to the truck series and make your way up to Nationwide,” Pizzo said. “Obviously making Sprint Cup is the hardest.”

Maresca is hoping someday his school will start sponsoring DIRT teams and series the way SUNY Canton does.

“That would be awesome,” Maresca said. “That would help them get more students. It would be an awesome opportunity for them and the racers if they could sponsor racers that went to the school. It would generate more interest in the school from the racing community. SUNY Canton helped me out when I was racing dirt bikes.”

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