Sitting in the driver's seat of his blue Ford Mustang on April 10, Lyle Anderson took a moment to look at the road in front of him.
It wasn't a typical road. Anderson, 18, was at Daytona International Speedway. He was about to race in the RVA Graphics & Wraps Daytona Beach 14-hour race, part of the ChampCar Endurance Series. The place was intimidating. The nerves hit, Anderson said, until words from his father came through his radio headset, telling him to forget about the track's history, the money it took to get there and the ever-present fear of crashing in the back of every driver's mind.
Anderson simply had to drive like he was born to drive.
Maybe he was. From a young age, Anderson, who will graduate from Sarasota Military Academy next month, has been interested in racing, he said. Not just the results, but the process. Anderson played the "Forza" series of video games when he was young. The games are meant to replicate the performance and handling of real-life cars, and Anderson said he became enamored with the sport's style. He would think about how to make his car faster. He took note of all the brands featured as sponsors. Most of all, he became addicted to the challenge of going faster.
Three years ago, Anderson took his love of racing from the screen to the track. He started driving go-karts at Palmetto's Andersen Racepark. For two years, Anderson was a student of the sport's basics. He learned techniques such as trail braking — when a driver hits the brakes before a turn and slowly lays off them during the turn until hitting the turn's apex — to improve his performance. Anderson also began eating healthy and working out five days a week.
"Go-karts may not be the most exciting form of racing, but they were great to get me into the sport," Anderson said. "You have the same challenges you find at higher levels of racing. I learned things there that I can use at higher levels."
All along, Anderson had his eyes on something bigger than go-karts. He wants to be an endurance driver, the ones who race for hours on end. His dream is to compete in the International Motor Sports Association in its endurance races, which include the Daytona 24-hour, the Sebring 12-hour and the Petit Le Mans, which is held at Road Atlanta and lasts 10 hours.
"I have always thought that endurance racing is the purest form of racing there is," Anderson said. "It's a huge challenge. You get to show who is the most dominant car and the most dominant driver. I have always loved that."
So that's what Anderson pursued, and in April, he took part in his first race. That's when he found himself on the grid at Daytona International Speedway. And the nerves hit, until he remembered he was born to do this. Then, Anderson was calm. The race began.
Day turned into night and rain fell on and off. Anderson drove through it all. He and his team, Trident Motorsports, finished 21st out of 124 cars. For a first race, Anderson was thrilled. It earned him the chance to compete in more races this fall, including the Creventic 24 Hours of Sebring race at Sebring Raceway.
Anderson signed a sponsorship deal with NEPTN (pronounced "Neptune"), a bracelet company based in Miami. The company's website says Neptune was chosen as its brand name because the Roman sea god stands as a symbol of freedom, of living in the present moment.
It's akin to how Anderson feels behind the wheel: free.
Anderson is only just beginning his career-long endurance test, but thus far, he's on the right track.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.