Ian Rotundo enjoying the learning process, competition aspect of racing at Irwindale

Ian Rotundo
(Photo courtesy of Ian Rotundo)

About five years ago, a then 26-year-old Ian Rotundo went to a race at California’s Irwindale Speedway with his family.

“I was sitting in the grandstands watching them race going, ‘I can do that, no problem,'” Rotundo said.

Rotundo had done some motorcycle racing, but never in a car. He had grown up watching the sport, loving driving and cars, and his dad desert raced many years ago.

While at Irwindale, a NASCAR-sanctioned asphalt oval near Los Angeles, Rotundo found the track’s Tucker Tire Enduro Sport class, which he thought looked relatively affordable with good competition and a variety of cars and skill levels.

It also, most importantly, just looked really fun.

It turned out, “I had a lot to learn,” he added.

Ian Rotundo
(Photo courtesy of Ian Rotundo)

The first two years were a steep learning curve for Rotundo. He’s had to learn how to save tires and not be so aggressive on the gas pedal.

“Get in, put the pedal to the floor and hold on. … It turns out that doesn’t work very well,” he said. “I’m learning how to go slower to go faster, if that makes any sense.”

He’s started finding much more success the last two years. In 2021, he finished second in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Division III national championship standings, and this year he’s third.

“The last two years I’ve just been honing those skills and trying to be a little more precise, and a little less aggressive with the pedals, and a little smoother all around,” Rotundo said. “And it’s been amazing how much that’s changed, just learning how to drive a little more carefully. It’s not always push the pedal harder to go faster. It doesn’t always work all the time.”

Much of the learning for Rotundo has been alongside his family, especially his dad, Jim, who helps him work on the car every week.

“I couldn’t even begin to do it without him. There is no way that I would be as competitive as I am and consistent as I am without his help,” Rotundo said. “Doing stuff with my family has been awesome.”

Rotundo has found the competition and camaraderie among the drivers at Irwindale is his favorite aspect of racing. He’s built something of a rivalry with driver Bobby Ozman, who won the Enduro track championship at Irwindale in 2019 and 2020. Ozman is currently second to Rotundo in the track points this season.

“He’s been pushing me hard this year. He’s been doing a great job,” Rotundo said of Ozman. “It’s good to have. It’d be no fun if there were no competition.”

But it’s not all about just getting wins for the two drivers. It’s not worth it if they’re not pushing each other to victory.

“At the last race, during the autograph session, Bobby found a nail in his tire,” Rotundo said. “We had already gone through tech, and if he were to change that tire he was going to have to start at the back of the pack. So we ended up, I was able to run back to the pits and grab a plug kit and plug his tire for him, and he’s my biggest competition. But we’re still out there to help each other and make sure that we’re out there to race, and have fun racing and push each other on the track.

“I don’t want to beat him by some technicality that he was going to have to start further back than he was supposed to. I want to race him to race him. We’re out there to have fun and learning something, and push each other to the edge.

“I love the competition of it. The fact that on the track we can all be pushing the limits, and off the track be friends and help with each other.”

While Rotundo was hoping to try to win the NASCAR national championship this season, he may have to settle for another top-three finish. Irwindale finished its NASCAR season last week.

He’s fallen so in love with racing, though, that Rotundo will surely have more chances in the future.

“All of racing has been fantastic,” he said.