He’ll suit up for the varsity football game tonight as a freshman, but the pressure doesn’t bother him. He’s competed on bigger stages and, after winning this summer’s Canadian Baby Grand Racing Association tour, his trophies glisten in the parking prove it.
His racing season kicked off June 18 in Vernon, B.C. where he earned a top five finish. By mid-July he was climbing in the points standings, placing consistently in the top 10 as the circuit moved across different stops in Alberta. At the last stop in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan over Labor Day weekend, Hilliker held a comfortable lead on the standings as he drove to the 2011 championship.
Although he is the youngest racer on the tour in just his second season, Hilliker insists the competition is friendly and competitors are good-natured even when cars collide on the track.
“Last year when we first joined the Canadians, they were so welcoming,” Hilliker said. “If someone gets dinged up or something, we’ll shake our hands and say were sorry and still be friends throughout the whole thing.”
Baby Grands are a class of racecars sanctioned by the Miniature Motorsports Racing Association, and they are a two-thirds scale of a full size stock car. They first became available to the public in 1996 and run on a 1250 Yamaha engine that can reach 145 mph.
Hilliker trains by lifting weights and snowboarding in the offseason to meet the physical demands of car racing. He’ll frequently come home with blisters on his foot from the scorching heat of his car’s engine. But Hilliker is remarkably focused for someone his age.
“I’ll just listen to some music, kind of get my mind set,” he says of his pre-race routine. “Mainly, I just take everything pretty seriously. It’s a lot of power you have to put into it to drive the car. The setup, learning everything about the car is probably the hardest part.”
As far as he knows, Hilliker is the only person in Montana who races Baby Grands, and he’s the first American to win the Canadian tour. While he may be a new face to the Canadian racing scene, Mike and his family are no strangers to auto racing. Hilliker began racing quarter midget class at age 5, after his older brother John fell in love with a Briggs and Stratton go-cart he received for Christmas.
The boys started out racing in the quarter midget class before moving up to Bandolero class and eventually Baby Grands. Racing came naturally to both boys, and the families business allowed parents Gary and Dorie to support their children’s passion for the sport.
“We’re just a normal family, nothing too special or anything,” says Mike.
That is if normal means two brothers who are champion race car drivers. John Hilliker is currently a sophomore at University of North Carolina-Charlotte where he studies motorsports engineering and races Legend class cars. Undoubtedly, family has been an important influence on Mike’s young career, and he openly admits he wouldn’t be where he is without his support crew.
“Mostly my family, just because they’ve put all their time and effort into the car, and just into making all the trips that we’ve made.”
After a moment, he quickly adds, “My sponsors, too, because they’ve helped us financially keep the car here and keep all of our parts coming and just letting us race some more.”
Mike’s mother Dorie Hilliker watches from behind the scenes as her son soaks up the spotlight, but she’s quick to jump in and help out wherever she can.
“We do have fun, but were going out there to win,” she said. “It’s very gratifying, just when they race, they’re learning sportsmanship and they’re doing something they like to do. We’ve taught the boys ‘Just race as hard as you can but don’t be so aggressive that you’ll take somebody out’.”
“They both like to go fast and its safe,” she added. “It’s just exciting and were proud of them.”
Mostly, Mike Hilliker is a laid-back young man on the fast track to a successful racing career. He doesn’t get too excited about his foot nearly catching on fire, or the time he stacked his quarter midget car into the hay bales. As for what it’s like to go speeding down a racetrack toward a national championship, he said: “I’ll still be myself and everything, but I’ll be concentrated on what I’m supposed to do.”