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On the right track

Chad Knapp is an avid race fan. He is pictured with Josh Thoennes, a Midwest Modified driver.

There's no place that Chad Knapp would rather be than the racetrack.

"It's basically my second home during the summer time," said the 16-year-old sophomore from Parkers Prairie. "I can't get away from there."

Knapp, the son of Becky Lee and Doug Knapp, has been a diehard race fan since he was 7. After months of begging, he finally convinced his dad to take him to the races at the Viking Speedway in Alexandria.

"We ended up going and we have gone every Saturday since then," said Knapp, who has cerebral palsy and walks with the aid of crutches.

A Saturday night fixture at the racetrack, Knapp soon became a regular visitor in the pits when the races were over, where he would talk to some of the drivers. Over time, he developed a special friendship with two racers - brothers Josh and Jason Thoennes.

About two years ago Knapp started working with the Thoennes brothers as part of their pit crew.

"It just so happens when I first went down there, Josh ended up winning that night," Knapp said of his role as "motivator" in the crew. "He said, 'You have to come down here more often.' Ever since I've been going down every weekend.

"I'll never watch a race in the stands again," Knapp continued with excitement. "Being down there you are so into it. You are right there on top of everything - the noise, standing right there when the engines start up. There's nothing better."

But to Knapp, it's not just about the roar of the engines and the excitement of winning.

"It's almost like a big family down there," he said. "[Josh and Jason] are probably two of the nicest people I have ever met. I don't know where I would be if I didn't know them. They are such a big influence on me and what I want to do someday."

Of course, one of the things he wants to do is to become a race car driver.

"I've been itching for quite awhile to get behind the wheel of something," said Knapp, who doesn't have his license yet. Because of his disability, an instructor will have to determine whether he needs hand controls in order to operate a vehicle.

But Knapp has a back-up plan should his racing aspirations not pan out. If he can't be at the racetrack, a football field gives him just as much of a thrill.

"Those are my two passions, football and racing," Knapp said, telling the story of how nine years ago, Minnesota Viking Randy Moss gave him a football after scoring a touchdown. The incident was during a nationally televised game - and it was shown on ESPN and Sports Center.

Since then Knapp has attended the Vikings' training camp every year and gets weekly text messages from the public relations person from the Vikings. He is buddies with many of the players, including former player, Cris Carter. Knapp also helps with the Punt, Pass and Kick contest for the Special Olympics held at Winter Park every year.

When he's not thinking about racing or football, Knapp is wrestling. He has been on the team in Parkers Prairie for four years. He has yet to get a win, but he has gone from getting pinned in the first period to going all three periods and losing by only one or two points.

"Everybody thinks losing is easier because I have a disability. I hate losing just as much as anybody does," he said. "But from where I was to what I am now is a huge win. I've come too far to quit."

With his determined attitude of not letting anything stand in his way, Knapp is already on the right track to making his life plans.

"I want to become a head coach someday for football," he said. "I'm going to go to college for sports management and eventually be an NFL coach somewhere."

In the meantime, you can find Knapp at the racetrack. And when he's not there, he's thinking about it.

"Is it racing season yet?"