CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Each time we see a fine young racer begin to mature behind the wheel, it puts a smile on our faces. In recent years, the EMod division has been touted as a legit training ground, a place where young drivers can hone their skills before advancing to the ultra-competitive SportMods.
For 19-year-old Gilbert Perez III, that EMod class has been ideal. Using it as a career launchpad, Perez has leveraged his opportunities like a Pro and is starting to turns some heads in South Texas. This year, he's earned five wins and a dozen top-10 finishes in 13 starts, and shows no signs of slowing down.
“My SportMod car owner, Skip Grey, took me to a little test session at South Texas Race Ranch last winter,” Perez said. “He called it a little tryout. He liked what he saw, and gave me the opportunity to drive his car this year.
“We managed to pick up our first win in the SportMod last week at South Texas. Last season was kind of slow for us, we were only able to earn two wins all year. They made a couple of rules changes in EMod, and it threw us off a little at first. But by last fall, we started finding more and more speed.”
Perez was able to close out his 2021 season with a victory in the Jerry Whiteaker Memorial, setting the tone for what has already been a stellar start to 2022.
“This year, we've definitely been hitting our marks and running up front every weekend. It's the same thing with the SportMod, it's been going so well. I need to give a big thanks to James Parks and Chris Dudley, they've helped me out a lot with that car making sure it's always running perfect at all times.”
Already in his 13th year of competing in some type of vehicle, Perez has traveled some and it shows.
“I started out in Karts and moved up into EMods when I was about 13,” he explained. “I raced at Rio Grande Speedway a couple of times when it was still open. I raced mostly at places like South Texas Speedway and Shady Oaks Speedway in Goliad, Texas.
“After a while, I started racing Outlaw Karts. We would travel all over Texas and Oklahoma racing those things for several years. Once I moved up into EMods, I stayed there and learned enough to where I have this great opportunity now to drive a SportMod for Skip Grey. It's been quite a ride.”
In recent months, we've looked at the level of competition across North Texas in SportMods, Modified and Factory Stock. Now, it's time to address how tough open-wheel racing is in South Texas, as well.
“In the EMod class, there's a lot of young and upcoming talent you have to run against,” Perez said. “You also have veterans like JD Legge and Daniel Preston, there always fast on nay given night. And in the SportMods, that's a whole different level. Those guys are some of the best in the country.
“You have guys like Cody Leonard, Marcus Mikulencak, Steven Whiteaker at times, Ray Allen Kulhanek, those guys have been racing all of their lives. They're some of the very best Texas has to offer. To run up front against those veterans makes me proud, and I'm fortunate to be able to do it.”
When Perez puts on his safety suit, grabs his helmet and gets ready to compete, he climbs into two very nice machines.
“As far as the SportMod owned by Skip Grey, it's a 2021 Dynamic Race Car,” Perez explained. “It's one of the best cars I've ever driven, I just love it. It's powered by an engine built by Bruce Sanders at Ace Automotive and Machine Shop. I really need to thank Bruce, he builds a great powerplant.
“As for the EMod, it's powered by an engine from Mission Auto up in San Antonio built by Mr. Tom Hamilton. Rick Pollaro provided us this engine after we cooked the one we had while chasing points back in 2019. He sent us this engine brand new and I will be forever grateful for that.”
Along with his immense natural talent behind the wheel and those two beautiful race cars, Perez also has a few key people and solid marketing partners in his corner who keep his program going strong.
“The first person I need to thank for all he's done to help me is Lawrence Mikulencak,” Perez said. “He's been a mentor to me and has helped me not only in racing but off the track in life, as well. He always told Skip that he should take a look at me, and finally, I got the chance. I am truly grateful.
“I also want to thank our valued marketing partners on the SportMod, including Grey's Recycling, 112 Bodies, Ace Transmissions, Top Hat Signs and Designs; Ace Automotive and Machine Shop; Big Dog Racing, Swenson Racing and Dark Horse Racing Shocks.
“On our EMod car, I need to thank Ace Transmissions, RNMinstalls.com, Grey's Recycling, C-D Electric, MAV Motorsports and Mission Auto Parts. I'm truly grateful for their support of our team.”
With summer's heat already well entrenched in South Texas, Perez has a couple of ambitious yet within reach goals he'd like to achieve.
“It may be my rookie season in the SportMod, but we've managed to get the points lead,” he said. “I'm going to commit to going after the championship. In the EMod, I think I'm tied with Nathan Tiztman at South Texas Race Ranch. We're going to try to go for that title, as well.
“Basically, I'm leading the points in two different classes at two different tracks. I'm having a blast this year, it's way better than last season. This is when racing is fun, and there's a whole lot more to come.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo by Rachel Plant