Most people knew that kid in elementary school who’d spread tall tales of how he befriended a celebrity over the summer, climbed a mountain or raced cars in his spare time.
Seventeen-year-old Ian Anderson used to be one of those kids, except he wasn’t telling his first-grade classmates about hanging out with Michael Jordan or scaling Mount Kilimanjaro. Instead, he’d tell those who asked how he’d race go-karts on the weekends. Of course, many of them didn’t believe him and some even made fun of him, but he was telling the truth.
“When I was younger, I used to try to do that, but no one believes you and you just get laughed at,” he said. “You wouldn’t go up to someone and ask, ‘What do you do in your spare time?’ ‘Well, I’m a race car driver.’ Who’s going to believe you? So it’s just ‘I’m Ian at school; I’m not a race car driver.’”
The public ridicule in his early years didn’t deter Ian from pursuing his passion for racing, and by the time he turned 12, he had already been racing for about seven years and graduated from go-karts to bandoleras, which look like miniature stock cars.
It was around this time when he began to get that competitive feeling. “I was just driving around until about the age of 10. Then I started trying to win, but I didn’t mature as a driver until 12. Then I really started pushing myself and knowing what it means to race a car.”
That knowledge didn’t come quickly, but through the experience he gained from years of racing and from his parents, Mark and Master Sgt. Cristy Anderson, who serve as Ian’s pit crew. While his father passed down many of the technical aspects of racing, his mother, who’s the first sergeant of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., taught him the importance of winning and losing.
“He doesn’t win everything, and I think that can be a good thing. It’s humbling when we lose occasionally. There are lessons to be learned when you lose—how to be a good sport,” she said. “Ian recently didn’t win and the first thing he did was go over and congratulate the person who won and tell him what a good race it was. That’s important, and it makes you feel good as a parent that you taught that person there’s more to life than winning.”
Racing has also strengthened Ian’s relationship with his parents, as he spends a lot more time with them than the average high school student.
“I don’t think we’d have as much time with Ian, especially with him being a teenager, if we didn’t race,” Cristy said. “It kind of gets me emotional to think that way, but almost every summer is spent with us. What better way to spend your summer, when you only have how many weekends before they’re doing their own thing?”
Ian is currently a junior in high school and will soon be “doing his own thing” when he graduates and begins college next year. As he’s matured through school, he’s also grown at the race track, graduating from racing go-karts to driving Thunder roadsters in Las Vegas, where he’s the reigning Thunder Car National Oval champion. He’s also learned what it means to be a successful race car driver.
“It’s not like in video games where you pass your competitors because your engine’s super cool or big. You have to think through it, time your apex and hit the gas in the right spot. You have to find where they’re slow so you can be faster than them to pass them,” he said. “If you just sit behind someone the entire race, you’re not going to pass them.”
The first-place trophies and ribbons lining the shelves in Ian’s room prove he’s passed many of his competitors and are a physical reminder of his growth as a driver.
“The trophies just remind you of the moments,” he said. “It’s the journey I’ve taken getting all the trophies and becoming the person I am now (that’s important).”
Cristy has watched Ian’s growth, both at home and from the pit stop, and even though he doesn’t think he’ll pursue racing after high school, she’s confident he’ll translate the success he’s had on the track to whatever path he chooses in life.
“My son will go out and contribute to society and represent me well. I taught him well,” she said. “Every time I give him a little piece of me, I know I’m making him a better person, a better man and maybe one day, a good dad.”
While the painful memories of his classmates’ jeers are still burned in his mind and keep him from openly sharing his hobby, he hasn’t let them stifle his growth. In fact, he’s adopted a mantra, one that echoes his mother’s wishes and has led him to success both on and off the track: “It’s about being better today than yesterday.”
Judging by the crowded space on his trophy shelf and his aspirations for continuing his education, he’s living up to it.