We’ve read of many different routes to the grid in profiling drivers in the Toyo Tires F1600 Championship: racing families, karts to cars, ice racing leading to road racing… and while he’s been there and done all that, Alex Zeller may just have the story topper of them all! If the tale begins with a roommate, $125 and a Chevy Chevette in Thunder Bay, how can you not read on?
How long have you been racing?
My first true racing experience was in 2002 in Thunder Bay, when my roommate and I decided that we would go ice racing. We took our beer money and purchased a 1979 Chevy Chevette for $125. We installed a roll cage made from fence rail, purchased the cheapest winter tires we could find, made a ridiculous rear wing from crazy carpets and plywood, rolled on some Tremclad paint (which didn’t really dry…), and went racing! Over the next five years I ice raced a few different cars, but nothing as hilariously fun as that RWD Chevette. Just looking at it made me laugh! In 2005 I moved to Ottawa to become an adult… and two years later I was racing karts! I did that for a season, then tried the adult thing again! Finally, in 2012, I started racing in Formula Libre and have been running 3-4 races a years since then.
How long have you raced F1600?
I’ve been racing F1600 for two years. I started in 2016 after watching and seeing how competitive and cost effective the series really was.
How many race cars have you owned?
Aside from the ice racers mentioned above, I have owned two real race cars. In 2011, I purchased a former SCCA Runoff-winning 1988 Citation F2000. I ran that car in Formula Libre from 2012 to 2015. It was a great car to learn with, very reliable and safe. After four years I got tired of racing on used tires against few other competitors, so I decided to sell the car in favour of an F1600. The goal was to get better as a driver in one of the most competitive classes in the country. In 2016, I started racing my current Van Diemen RF-00 Ford. The car needed a full refresh, but it had all the right bits with it. It’s been a relatively cost effective way to run in the most competitive series in the paddock.
What is your # and why did you choose it?
My number is #44 (or anything with a ‘4’ in it). My father raced with #4 in CASC and SCCA from the late 60’s through to the mid 80’s and for some silly reason it’s a number that means a lot to our family. When I started running F1600 #4 was taken, so I chose #44.
What other classes have you raced?
I raced in Formula Libre between 2013 and 2015. It was a great way to get my feet wet. While the car was much quicker, the racing wasn’t as competitive so I could just mind my own business and focus on driving. But after four years I was looking for a new challenge.
What track raced has been your favourite?
My favourite track I have raced at is Circuit Mont-Tremblant. It has a nice mix of fast and slow corners, great flow, and the area is great for my family to enjoy. Not far behind is Mosport. When I drive out on track for the first session of the weekend, I’m always reminded of what a serious place Mosport is. Big risk, big reward! Plus it has two playgrounds which is important for the youngest members of my crew.
What track would you love to race around?
I would love to race at Spa-Francorchamps. Big elevation, big corners, natural flow and awash with history. That said, I feel lucky to live where I do; Mosport, Calabogie, Mont-Tremblant and Watkins Glen are all within a reasonable drive!
What is your greatest racing memory?
I’ve been lucky to have been attending races since I was 6 weeks old. One of my favourite early racing memories was watching the Ferrari 333SP’s exiting ‘the boot’ at Watkins Glen in 1996. The scream of those Ferrari V-12’s in such a gorgeous car was spine-tingling! I was learning to use an SLR camera at the time and still have some of my photos from that weekend.
However, my greatest memories are without doubt being formed today! For us, race weekends have helped facilitate quality time with family and friends. It has allowed me to mess around with cars with my Dad despite living five hours apart, to rekindle friendships with long time friends, and to live my childhood dream of preparing and racing my own car.
Favourite driver from any generation?
Like many racing fans of my generation, my childhood racing hero was Ayrton Senna, more of a Superhero than real person. That said, having been around amateur racing all my life, I understood that I was not destined to be a superhero. Having grown up listening to my Dad’s stories of racing in the 1970’s and 80’s, I have huge respect for everyone who has been successful prepping and racing their own cars; balancing family and careers with a passion for racing! Watching and listening to my dad (Alf Zeller), Geoff Foster, Paul Lambke, the Lobban’s, Dave Weitzenhof and countless others for the last 37 years has been the inspiration that gave me the confidence to do it myself.
Do you plan to be on the grid in 2018?
Yes, I’ll be on track in 2018. Looking to improve the driver and car at every weekend.
Driver/Car Pictures by Richard Coburn