It's fairly safe to say that racing cars at the Grundy County Speedway is in the blood of Chris Cooling. If nothing else, it's in his genes.
Cooling started racing out at the local oval as a 17-year old kid, but the Joliet native and Joliet Catholic Academy graduate barely remembers a day not being around the sport. His dad, John, was competing on the track from the day it was built until the early '80s, and all of his brothers were involved in the sport at some point and time.
"After I stopped running, I stayed involved with the sport as an official. When my boys were young, they were always around the track and the boys took to it," John Cooling said. "Chris has been the most predominant of the boys, but Matt ran Enduro right up until a couple of years ago and Adam ran street stocks. Even my brother Dave ran for a short time.
"When Chris got older, he said he wanted to do it so we went out and bought him and old car and he got running in the street stock division," John added. "He did that for a season and then he built his own and has stayed in racing ever since."
Chris has not only stayed in racing, he has stayed at a high level in the competitive Late Model division at the third-mile paved oval. At press time, Chris Cooling is fourth in the circuit standings with 809 points, which puts him behind Pat Kelly (1,043), D.J. Weltmeyer (951) and Eddie Hoffman (910).
"There is so much outstanding talent out there right now. The depth at Grundy is as good as anywhere," John Cooling said. "We're running with guys like Eddie Hoffman and Pat Kelly and we feel like we are keeping up."
Keeping up has been made more challenging this year for Chris since he has to bring his car down every Friday night from his home in Greenfield, Wis., and he's been involved in a couple of different accidents this season.
"Right now we love the chance to be running. We do it because it is our passion," Chris Cooling said. "We enjoy being able to compete at a really good level."
Chris Cooling said that just getting to Grundy sometimes can be difficult but it's worth it. He estimates rides between 2.5 and 3.5 hours coming from out of state.
"I love competing out there," Chris said about the Speedway. "Going 70 to 80 miles an hour and going into a curve with guys all around you, there's nothing like it."
Chris said that when he first got into racing, the first thing he did was slap the No. 71 on his car in honor of his father — this even though he never actually saw his dad race.
"I've heard a lot of good things from people, people that I always looked up to like Larry Schuler and others my dad used to hang around with," Chris said. "It's what got me motivated to go out and build and race my own car."
Chris raced four years in the street stock division before moving up to run with the Mid-Ams. He then bought a late model car and began working on it before moving to that division and running as No. 31 for the past several years.
He has driven for Bruce Barkley in the past and currently drives for Brian Pejskar.
"He's been a car owner for, I want to say, 18 years," Chris Cooling said. "He started out with Pat McCabe and they were together for a number of years and won a number of races.
Over the years, feature wins have not come easy for Cooling — though he has finished as high as third in the final points standings at both Grundy and Illiana. He said he has won "two or three" street stock features over the year and three in Mid-Am but has never won a late model feature.
That has been one of the goals for the team this season from the onset. However, twice this season, Cooling has been involved in accidents that have set the team back.
"The first race (a twin-25) there was a wreck in front of me and I got collected into it. Then, on the second twin-25, I went out to qualify and broke the left front shock and went right into the wall," he said. "That then took us out of two more races. Since then, we haven't been stellar but we have a lot of things figured out and we keep working out the bugs."
Considering the gap between Cooling and Kelly at the top of the season leader board, Cooling knows that winning a title this year is unrealistic, but that doesn't mean the team is packing things up for the summer.
"We'd like to run in the top five and get a feature win," he said of the team's amended goals.