Salvatore Iovino came from the world of racing down straight tracks with 1,500 horsepower, but there he was earlier this year at a circle track in Idaho. A buddy had been bugging him to give stock car racing a try, so Iovino eventually relented. Iovino sat in a race car with 400 horsepower and scoffed.
“Dude, this is only 400 horsepower,” Iovino said. “I drive 1,500 horsepower.”
“Alright,” his friend said, “just go out there and do some laps and see how you do.”
Fifteen slow laps later, Iovino crashed into a wall, doing nearly $10,000 of damage to his friend’s stock car. The money came out of his own pocket.
“It crushed my ego,” Iovino said. “And I had a whole new respect for driving stock cars.”
The Forsyth County resident has been trying to master stock cars ever since, embarking on an ambitious quest to reach NASCAR’s top level. Iovino has raced all year in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the bottom rung of professional racing, but lately he’s earned something of a promotion: a series of four races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. Iovino has raced two already and finished 16th and 21st. His next is Sept. 24 at Meridian Speedway in Idaho and will be televised on the NBC Sports Network.
Iovino is, by all accounts, a long shot to reach NASCAR’s premier level, the Sprint Cup Series. Most Sprint Cup drivers are reared in the sport from an early age, and many are born into racing families. The early start allows them to gain experience and develop valuable business relationships in the racing community.
That puts Iovino behind. He’s one of five drivers with Patriot Motorsports Group, a band of late-comers to racing trying to catch up.
“We’re the lowest budget team in this series,” Iovino said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work in a short amount of time to build up the experience and skill set level to race at this level.”
Indeed, Iovino has travelled to the West Coast for races every weekend; spent thousands of dollars practicing on race simulators; hustled to get sponsors to help pay for the myriad of expenses; and juggled his own cellphone tower business.
Born in Phoenix and raised in California, the 38-year-old didn’t start racing until after he moved to Georgia, in 2008. In 2012, he bought his dream car, a 2006 Dodge Charger SRT8. It had 425 horsepower. Iovino was inspired.
“It was the first time I ever felt real horsepower,” Iovino said. “I was automatically addicted to it.”
Iovino enhanced the car to satisfy his addiction: he ported the cylinder heads, changed the cam shaft, augmented the exhaust, added a super charger. Two years later, the car had 1,500 horsepower. He calls it the Black Widow and has taken it across the country to drag races, winning eight championships along the way.
Iovino is far winning any championships in a stock car soon.
But he’s also just begun.
“It’s that challenge of knowing that I don’t have that long-term history of a racing background,” Iovino said, “but I’m out there competing and trying to achieve my goals.”