For some, sport is about recreation. For others, it’s about fitness. For a select few, it’s a burning passion and even further, for some individuals and families, it’s an all-encompassing lifestyle.
Local Cottage Grove racers and brothers Justin Lemon and Austin Ellertson, their family and Justin’s best friend Cameron Grant fall into that final category. They will spend the next two weeks pouring all their energy into fundraising efforts to allow Justin, 14 years old, and his little brother Austin, seven years old, a chance to participate in the Fifth Annual Kyle Larson Outlaw Kart Showcase, held September 2 and 3 at Cycleland Speedway in Oroville, California.
According to the event’s own website, it is known as “the Indy 500 of outlaw kart racing.”
“We are doing, like, pretty much anything. Car washes, collecting cans and donations, we’re doing house care, animal care, anything pretty much to make money. Our overall goal is to raise about $2000,” said Lemon when asked about the details of their fundraising efforts.
As one could imagine, racing isn’t the most cost-friendly activity to get involved in. With other sports, all you often need is a ball and some space, but when the necessary equipment includes high-performance engines, specialized tires and the ever-rising cost of fuel, meeting the financial demands of your passion requires some help and a particular attitude.
“One thing that I’m very proud of as a parent, he didn’t just go around saying, ‘can someone give me money,’” said Justin’s dad, Nate Ellertson, when asked about his son’s efforts. “He looked at it as a way to get out there and provide a service to people doing side jobs, whatever it is, to achieve his goal. So now he has a work ethic and to have that at 14 years old is pretty amazing.”
For a family like the Lemon-Ellertson’s, racing has been a lifestyle for multiple generations. Justin’s great-grandfather raced, as well as his grandfather, his mother, father and now him and his little brother, Austin. With racing practically encoded in his DNA, it’s hardly surprising that since beginning the sport at age eight Justin has over 50 main event wins.
“His instincts … we knew from the first time he hit the track that he was a go-getter. He was fearless. His first ever competitive race that he raced, he won. He had never raced anything before,” said Ellertson.
Now, at age 14, Justin races in the open outlaw kart class running 450-500cc engines that produce 80-100 horsepower in a vehicle that weighs as much as a medium-sized motorcycle; in other words, a small machine that produces big power. Austin is still working his way up to the larger class as he races in the lower box stock class.
And while this shines a spotlight on one local family, their racing history, and their goals for the future, this is also a story of friendship.
Justin and his best friend Cameron met at Cottage Grove Speedway two years ago when they were both 12. They shared an instant connection and cultivated their friendship further through football, video games and, of course, racing. Now as they both prepare for their freshman year of high school - Cameron at Creswell and Justin here in Cottage Grove - the power of their bond is on display through their most recent fundraising plans.
Within this two-man partnership, Justin is the racer. Cameron’s specialty, on the other hand, is being the best friend he can possibly be. When he heard that the only thing holding back his friend from competing in such a premier event was finances, Cameron jumped into action to lend a hand.
“Cam doesn’t race, but Cam is like the best friend that a guy could ask for because here he is saying, ‘I’m willing to go do these side jobs with you and I’m gonna give you all the money from it because I want to see you succeed,’ and that is unheard of in these days,” said Ellertson about his son’s friendship.
The boys have already raised around $200 after an Aug. 5 post to the “What’s Going on Cottage Grove?” Facebook page but are eager to work for the rest of the money and get a chance to race in Oroville.
“I’m looking forward to getting really good experience,” said Justin about his goals for the Kyle Larson Showcase. “We have a chance to win. I know there’s a lot of people with up to ten grand in just the motor, but it’s very hard to beat some of the guys up there … so I’m just going there for the experience and to have fun.”
While his goals are humble, Justin’s maturity and approach - especially within a dangerous sport that can be financially straining - is something his family believes could take him much further.
“I don’t have liquid credit to where I can just go you can go here, you can go there. You’re going to have to let your talents and abilities carry you,” said Ellertson of the realities of racing. “And that’s not just in the race car, but he’s proving that in his actions right now by developing his work ethic, going out there and saying, ‘I’m going to go sacrifice hours of my time and the money that I earn, I’m going to go chase my dreams with it.’”
There are roughly two and a half weeks until the Kyle Larson Showcase, meaning it’s a relatively tight window for the boys to reach their fundraising goals. However, there seems to be much more time - a lifetime perhaps - in Justin Lemon’s racing future and, particularly, his special connection with Cameron Grant.
To get more information about the fundraising efforts, check out the “What’s going on Cottage Grove?” Facebook page.