Dominic Cicero – The Ability To Bounce Back

Gary Horrocks caught up with the Westernesse Crawford driver at the Rolex Series event at Laguna Seca.

dailysportscar.comIf Hollywood ever wanted to make a racing movie, full of the type of drama that they expect, they would have to look no further than the life story of Dominic Cicero.

Dominic, who is currently the lead driver of the Westernesse Racing Crawford Ford in the Rolex Series, was on the fast track to success until he was dealt a series of set backs that would squash the desire of many. But despite these many obstacles, including being given his last rites in front of his terminally ill father, Dominic is now back doing what he loves – something he has known for most of his life.

Born in 1980 in Vancouver, Washington, Dominic remembers seeing photos of his dad, who had raced karts. Dominic – “He only got a season in before I was born, and like many dads, he sacrificed some things for his family. When I was born, he got out of racing and sold the equipment, but growing up, I was able to see the photos of him racing.”

Those photos and the stories planted a seed in Dominic’s mind, and at the age of 8, he became the family member who was in the driver’s seat when it came to racing. “It was not a normal childhood I guess. Instead of playing the usual stick and ball sports, I was all over the Northwest, racing my kart. At age 8, even going 30 mph seemed fast. We’d drive on Friday, I’d have a race on Saturday, then we’d drive to the race on Sunday, drive home and then do it all over again. I think I was getting in somewhere around 40 races or more a year back then. I tell you one good thing is that I just never had any time to get in trouble as a kid.”

It was evident that Dominic had some skill at the sport, so he started on the usual path towards the hoped-for future stardom. After winning three National Championships in karting, the next stop was the Skip Barber series, and then to Winfield A racing school in France, where his talents earned him a ride in the Winfield World Finals Championship. It was here that he became only the third American to win the championship. Unfortunately, it was at this time that Dominic got the first news about his mother. She was diagnosed with lung cancer, and sadly passed all too suddenly. Dominic went back to chase his dream: saddened, but determined to make it as a driver.

He was offered an F3 ride with Elf, and even though F3 was the optimum plan, he had to come home - because his father was diagnosed with cancer. Domonic had also run out of money. So he came home to the States, putting the F3 ride on hold so that he could be with his father. It was then that he tested with Forsythe for a Formula Atlantic drive, the test went well, and he waited for word on the drive.

The time spent in France was quite an experience for Dominic: in fact on his resume, he lists his education as the Winfield Racing School in Bandol France. “It was quite an experience to live over there. I really didn’t know any French before I went, but I had to pick it up by necessity. Sometimes I surprise myself with what I remember, but now I mostly find it useful for speaking with women. Hey, it can’t hurt.”

But just when things seemed to be going bad, they got worse. Dominic was racing at a local kart track, using it for the fitness and just keeping the instincts sharp. At the start, his kart stalled, so he was forced to come through the field. It was in traffic that he came together with another kart, and the side impact flipped him and his kart into the air. “It was a side flip that launched me. I stayed in the kart and it landed on me. It was equivalent to something like a three story fall.” Needless to say, it was not a pretty sight.

“I remember getting airborne, but not much more than that. I just remember it was sort of like an amusement ride, then I blacked out. I came to again and remembered tasting blood in my mouth. The only thing I could think was that in movies, when blood was coming out of the mouth of somebody, they were dying, so I figured I must have just bit my tongue. I just knew that I wasn’t going to die. The only other thing I remember from that time is the smell of jet fuel, which was from the life flight helicopter that was brought in to take me to the hospital.” It was during this time that Dominic was given the last rites and was rolled by his father so he could see his son for the last time.

But the fighter in Dominic came to life. Despite suffering major injuries, that included both lungs being torn from the air pipe, Dominic fought back. The first goal was to stabilize and then perform the necessary surgeries in order to allow Dominic to survive. At first, local doctors were reluctant to perform the necessary procedures to reattach his lungs, but eventually a local doctor, who was also a racer, stepped forth to perform the procedure. “I really owe my life to Dr. Blizzard. He is a local club racer and I guess I owe him some instruction time out on the track.

“It was during this time that my dad got a call. The voice on the other line asked for me and told my dad that I had gotten the Atlantic ride. My dad had to explain that I was not available and that I was in a coma.”

Dominic was in the hospital for over a month and a half, with most of that time in a medically induced coma. When he went into the hospital, he weighed 140 lbs, and by the time he was released, he was down to 115. “I had no muscle and but also no fat. After the repair of my lungs, I was on 100% oxygen. It was like running a marathon to even move across the room. But slowly and surely, I was able to make progress. First, it was walking around in the house, then outside, around the house. It was baby steps, but at least I was alive and making progress.”

As time went on, Dominic was able to recover, but as he got better, his dad got worse. “I truly believe everything happens for a reason. My dad was really suffering, but it was good to be able to spend the time with him, up till his last days. He died when I was out of town. I knew it might happen when I was gone, but he was adamant that he would rather have me working than sitting around with him at the time. When I do make it in this sport, there will be lots of money going to cancer research.”

It was six months to the day of the accident that Dominic was back in a race car. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t for a long time, but he was back. Unfortunately, after it all settled, the medical bills for himself found him over a million dollars in debt, which is something that he is still battling to recover from.

He worked his way back, gaining strength while working at various driving schools, then found himself back in a race car in earnest, competing in the UK Formula Renault 2.0 Winter Series, where he was able to garner a few top 10 placings, highlighted by a fourth place finish at Rockingham. He then followed up with a full season in the North American equivalent, the Fran Am, where he had some good placings early on, to be backed up by wins at Mexico City and Phoenix.

2004 saw Dominic back in Europe, where he competed in a partial season in the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup Series. It was here that, despite a lack of funding and being in a marginally competitive team, Dominic was able regain a career path in racing at a professional level.

But where to go from there? “I looked at a ride in Formula Atlantic, but the cost was just too high. It is almost like they have priced themselves out of the market. I almost did a few Champ Car races, but it just didn’t work out. My manager (Ted Spooner) and I got together and looked at sportscar racing. We liked the momentum that the Grand Am was showing and we also liked that the price to compete was not that high. I mean, why spend the money to rent a drive in a FA or a Champ Car, when that money could be applied to buy a Daytona Prototype, which we would be able to turn around and sell at a later date, and hopefully recoup most of the initial outlay for the car? Initially we were going to do the entire season, minus Daytona, but it hasn’t worked out that way. We realize that we need to develop the car further and get a shock deal to get us where we need to be.”

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dailysportscar.comSo, what has he thought of sportscar racing? “It’s been interesting. That race at Laguna was crazy. We just never were able to relax. There was always something happening. Unfortunately Chad (McQueen) got tangled up in a shoving match with another car and that was how we ended up losing the nose during the race. I do feel that I have been able to show that we are quick enough to compete. I’m not at all used to sharing a car with another driver. It is somewhat foreign to me, with all of my background in open wheel racing, but I’m getting used to it.

“No knock to Chad, who has done a good job, but he is just not to the level that is needed yet. I need to have another quick driver and then I think we can be right there. At this time it is not for sure if Chad will be back with us or not, but communication is still on-going. I tell you, working with Chad has been real fun. He is an amazing guy. Anyone that grew up as he did, hanging out at Bruce Lee’s house, has got some stories to tell. But he is just an “ordinary” guy who happened to grow up in some extraordinary circumstances.”

Instead of running the Westernesse Racing Crawford at Watkins Glen, Dominic was invited to race with Essex and was able to show some good times in the car. “Things looked good in practice and in qualifying, where we qualified seventh, but the race just didn’t work out right. We lost some time due to losing tires, but near the end I was able to turn some times that were as good, if not better than, that the front runners. Yes, it was disappointing, but I think the crew was disappointed more than we the drivers were.”

It appears that instead of taking the blue Crawford out east for the Daytona race, Dominic may join in again with Essex. “The car and team (Essex) is already there. It just doesn’t make much sense to bring our stuff all the way out for what is basically one day of racing. We practice, qualify and race all in the same day. We’ll see what happens though.”

It is through his efforts that Ford Racing has started to take an interest in Dominic Cicero and the team. “We haven’t seen any money coming our way, but the support is there. We have some wind tunnel opportunities coming up that could be a help to our car. And just knowing that someone is looking out for me and the team is a help. Who knows where it may lead in the future?”

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So what is in the future? NASCAR? “Who knows? If Ford can be a help, it could be. It’s racing and it will pay the bills.”

One thing is evident though: all of his background in road racing has put him ahead of the curve, as far as car set up goes. “At the Daytona test, earlier this year, Greg Biffle (also from Vancouver) and I were discussing set ups and I said something about changing the shocks a click or two, and he turned said ‘what was that about? I never learned anything like that till I reached the Nextel Cup level.’ So maybe my background has set me up well in that regard.”

Oh, the color scheme and the woman on the back of the Westernesse Crawford are courtesy of “yourself fitness”, a fitness program developed for the PlayStation2 and X-Box game systems. The woman, Maya, is your personal trainer in this program, which is a complete and interactive fitness routine and nutrition program, all to be used on your favorite gaming system. See www.yourselffitness.com for further info. The blue is the color for yourself fitness, which happened to tie in quite nicely with the McQueen name.

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As stated in the opening paragraph of his biography, Dominic is a fighter. A quote courtesy of Derek Daly sums him up well. “Dominic has a competitive fire and resolve that far exceeds his age. His on-track mental toughness and skill is only surpassed by his ability to bounce back from several personal tragedies and use them as a motivating force in his racing career.” The talent and resolve are there for what Hollywood loves to see – sequels. I don’t think this story is over yet, in fact it may just be starting… Now, if only we can keep him employed in sportscar racing and not allow him to head over to NASCAR, we would have a happy, Hollywood-esque ending too.

 

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