While growing up in Minonk as a passionate fan of all forms of motor sports, Zachary Tasker believed a career in auto racing might be a bit of a long shot.

"I didn't have money to get a car, I probably wasn't good enough to be a driver, anyway, and I was too dumb to be a mechanic," Tasker said.

Along the way, however, he found something he could do and it ended up paying a rather handsome dividend.

In a span of about two years, the 25-year old Fieldcrest High School graduate has gone from manning the customer service desk at the Kroger store on North Main Street in Bloomington to a full-time job with a seat in race control at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as a number of other top auto racing venues in America.

As an employee of RaceTrack Engineering, Inc. (RTE), an event technology services company utilized by IMS, Tasker is in charge this month of operating the firm's 16 closed circuit video cameras that are strategically placed around the massive facility to capture footage of this year's Indianapolis 500 and the almost daily events leading up to it.

He'll do the same at the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race at IMS later this summer, as well as the Formula 1 race this fall at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, also an RTE client.

"It's even more thrilling than I ever suspected it would be," said Tasker, speaking to The Pantagraph by phone from the speedway's famous Pagoda, which houses race control and the track's media center. 

"I've attended a lot of 500s as a fan, but just the atmosphere of walking into the speedway while being a part of the event was something that I would never have dreamed about in my wildest dreams."

The dreams began at an early age when his father, Larry, would take him to weekly grassroots events at Farmer City and Fairbury, as well as elsewhere.

He soon developed such a passion for the sport that merely being a fan wouldn't quite cut it.

"When I got out of high school I wanted to do more, to somehow get on the other side of the fence," he said.

After his 2009 graduation from Fieldcrest, Tasker attended Heartland Community College and soon launched his racing career, by and large, in the only way possible in Central Illinois — as a volunteer.

The Illini Racing Series, a small midget racing organization, would take him up on an offer to serve free of charge as the series' track announcer. In the meantime, his income came at the Kroger on North Main where his supervisor, Bobbie Dunlap, immediately recognized his passion for motor sports.

"When he got hired, he made the stipulation that he would be doing races on the weekends," she said. "He provided me with his schedule and I made sure he had those weekends off."

Tasker fully appreciates Dunlap's cooperation, as well as the friendship he would develop while later working, free of charge again, with Kyle Hamilton, a midget and sprint car competitor from Danville, Ind. Hamilton was pivotal in landing his spot in IMS race control.

Tasker knew if he was going to have a make-your-living-career in racing, a move to Indianapolis or Charlotte would be required.

He opted for Indy, where Hamilton's father owns a used car dealership on the west side. Tasker the customer service rep at Kroger would become Tasker the car salesman while continuing to assist Hamilton in his racing endeavors.

Hamilton competes in a number of USAC events. And with USAC being an RTE client, things fell into place to where Tasker eventually met RTE founder Dave Dusick.

Dusick, a member of the facilities engineering team at IMS before founding RTE, was immediately impressed with Tasker's passion and enthusiasm for racing and gave him a shot at learning to operate the closed circuit cameras in race control.

In his position, Tasker can maneuver the 16 cameras with a joystick. He also has the capability to zero in on a specific area with pinpoint precision, an important aspect in helping crews clean up debris from an accident. Video images of a car's driver,and whether or not he's moving in the car, also is vital information to the medical personnel of the Holmatro Safety Crew on their way to a mishap.

Video footage also is utilized by the race stewards before penalties are handed down for pit lane or other rule violations.

Tasker is quick to emphasize that on race day, the first source of video is provided by the plethora of cameras on hand from the ABC television network. A year ago, they billed it as "100 cameras for the 100th" running of the Indy 500.

Last year's event was the first Tasker worked for RTE.

"I couldn't sleep the night before the race last year, so I went and sat alone at the Pagoda at 3 a.m., just to soak it all in," he said.

After a long day at the track, he continues to soak in the Indy experience on a daily basis.

"After the checkered flag (at practice) each day at 6 p.m., I'll go and walk around Gasoline Alley," he said. "Like I said, this is something that I wouldn't have dreamed about it my wildest dreams."

Bruce Yentes covers motor sports for The Pantagraph. He can be reached at byentes@pantagraph.com.

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