It adds up to speed

Jim Hawkins of Attleboro with his race truck that he drives at the Seekonk Speedway during the summer racing season.

Most of the year, Jim Hawkins is a mild-mannered high school math teacher and amateur athlete best known for organizing the Rome Boulevard Road Race.

From May through early September, though, he turns into The Hawk, hard-nosed driver of the No. 49 Toyota Tacoma who trades paint with other drivers each Saturday in Seekonk Speedway's race truck division.

The triathlete turned race driver says he never agonizes about how to spend his summer vacation: racing is his passion and preoccupation.

"It's hard to describe just how much fun it is," said Hawkins, 61, a longtime racing spectator who got behind the wheel for the first time four years ago.

He used to drive a winged mini-sprint car at a string of New Hampshire tracks until the long haul got to him. He decided to go truck racing three years ago.

Hawkins said driving in a pack of 15 to 20 trucks at speeds of up to 80 mph around a third-of-a-mile track is exhilarating.

"I can handle the speed and being up close to the wall, but I'm still learning a lot, especially how to run my line," Hawkins said.

Hawkins finished 10th in points at Seekonk in his first full season. He slipped to 14th last year, but is running in seventh place partway through the 2011 season.

His personal goal is to end up in the Top 10 and score at least one finish of fifth or better. Seventh is his best result this year.

The Attleboro High School teacher has been excited about cars and racing "since I could talk" and has been a regular visitor at Seekonk Speedway for more than 40 years.

It took a racing trade show at Gillette Stadium to convince him he could become a racer, and he bought his first sprint car.

Hawkins said the minute he turned a wheel on the racetrack, he was hooked.

"My general reaction was, what took me so long to try this?" he said.

Wheel-to-wheel competition, the feel of wind rushing through the cockpit and the smells of fuel and rubber made a potent cocktail.

Hawkins, who admits to having only a basic understanding of mechanics, brings along helpers who assist him in timing laps, checking tire temperatures and topping off the fuel tank at the track. He also gets help in repairing and adjusting his truck from friends and racing experts.

The Attleboro teacher says he enjoys the fellowship of racing diehards almost as much as the thrill of competition. While highly competitive, he says, fellow racers are constantly offering encouragement and advice and even help repairing his truck.

"In one incident, I broke my rear sway bar," he said. "Before I could even get out of the truck, there were two or three guys there ready to jack it up."

Watch Jim Race: As part of its Hometown Hero program, Seekonk Speedway is offering free grandstand admission July 16 to fans from Attleboro, North Attleboro, North Smithfield, Smithfield and Cumberland, who have a driver from their hometown competing that night. To qualify, fans need only show identification with their address.

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