Driving prodigy from PJP II High inspires books

By Beth Donze

Some of Ronnie Osmer’s earliest memories are of watching his father race cars on weekends at a dirt track in Mississippi.

“I was told I was a very good observer and that I had lots of opinions if he didn’t do the right sort of things on the track,” said Osmer, recalling one particular race in which his father was running a close second. From his perch atop the bleachers, Osmer was champing at the bit to give his elder some advice, but there wasn’t much he could do.

“I got on him after the race,” Osmer said. “I told him, ‘You could have passed (the leader) on the high side. I don’t know what you were doing!’”

Osmer was 3 years old.

The team behind the “Racer Ronnie” series of children’s books includes, from left, illustrator Bruce Trascher; race car driver Ronnie Osmer; and co-authors Michael Keen, Sandra Keen and Jessie Keen.

Speed Racer, in person

Such early audacity about racing strategy was a glimpse of things to come.

Osmer, currently in the home stretch of his senior year at Pope John Paul II High, began driving competitively at the tender age of 7, starting out on go-karts. He progressed to his first asphalt-top races at age 9, driving child-scaled “Bandolero” cars capable of speeds up to 85 mph.

By the time he was 12, Osmer, who earned a special driver’s license from the state of North Carolina as a 9-year-old, was invited to compete in the “Legend Car” racing division. His experience gained him entry two years earlier than the minimum age of 14.

“As a 12 year-old, I was racing and competing against people from 14 all the way up to their early 70s,” Osmer said, noting that the current division in which he competes is called “Pro Late Model.”

“The Pro Late Model is a full-body stock car. It has a Chevy 604 crate engine in it with a lot more power – 450 horsepower,” Osmer explained. “Depending on the track size, I could probably reach 150 (mph).”

The races in which Osmer currently competes take as many as two hours to finish and often involve a head-spinning 200 laps and a cumulative distance of 200 miles.

Last February, Osmer got to check off a major item on his bucket list: racing at the famed Daytona International Speedway. (Unfortunately, the 18-year-old couldn’t finish after a piece of flying debris blew out his engine in lap 23).

Inspiration for books

Lately, Osmer is enjoying yet another point of pride connected with his favorite sport: he is the inspiration behind the new “Racer Ronnie” series of children’s books written by three members of the Keen family of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Slidell: Sandra Keen and sons Jessie, a Pope John Paul eighth grader; and Michael, a St. Margaret Mary sixth grader.

The Keen trio has published two Racer Ronnie books to date: “Racer Ronnie: Racing Terms for Kids,” a beautifully illustrated glossary covering everything from the sport’s various flag signals to the meaning of racing vocabulary such as “pole sitter” and “crossover”; and “Racer Ronnie: The Friendship Race,” which examines the camaraderie that develops between rival race car drivers, even during major contests.

“When Ronnie was little, he wanted to read books about racing but there weren’t any,” said Cindy Osmer, Ronnie’s mother. Last spring, she took her complaint to Sandra Keen, a fellow parishioner of St. Margaret Mary, who had already published a few children’s books with her two sons.

On April 11, the Osmers and Keens went to St. Benilde Elementary School in Metairie to share the fruits of their collaboration with students at a schoolwide assembly.

Pope John Paul eighth grader Bruce Trascher, an avid race car fan and budding artist, also was on hand to give insight into his role as illustrator of the third installment of the series – “Racer Ronnie: The Championship Race” – due in the fall.

Always prays for safety

Sandra Keen told the St. Benilde students that the first step toward writing a book is to identify something you are passionate about and then immerse yourself in that topic.

“God has given us some pretty wonderful talents, and those talents are even more fun when we get to share them with the people that we love, right?” said Keen, telling the youngsters that good books always undergo a long and thorough proofreading process before being published.

Father Pat Wattigny, president of St. John Paul II High and pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist in Slidell, facilitated the Q & A session in St. Benilde’s cafeteria after the “Racer Ronnie” presentation. Father Wattigny is a former pastor of St. Benilde.

The St. Benilde students also got a chance to ask Ronnie Osmer about the racing world, learning that he practices his driving skills “virtually” at home on a racing simulator and always eats French fries before a race.

“I pray to God for safety in my race car and for the safety of all the other racers,” Osmer said. “I also pray that we can put on a great show for the fans – so they come back – because without fans you can’t have a race.”

Osmer, a Pope John Paul golfer and soccer goalie, said he is grateful to his high school for helping him manage the logistics of being a full-time student and race-car driver.

Inquisitive St. Benilde students ask Ronnie Osmer about the what it is like to drive a car fast on a race track.

“They count (racing) as a high school athletic sport for me, so I get approved days off and I’ve been able to make up work,” Osmer said. “Pope John Paul has helped us out majorly.”

College near NASCAR hub

This fall, Osmer will leave Louisiana to attend Belmont Abbey, a small Catholic college located in the NASCAR capital of Charlotte, North Carolina. The proximity will allow Osmer to pursue his passion while earning a degree in motorsports management.

“Race car driving is a lot more of a challenge than just going fast and turning left,” Osmer notes. “There’s a lot of work behind the scenes. There’s a lot of work that you do inside the car, so you have to do a lot of training and working out – about the same amount as a football player would do to get ready for a game.”

Unbeknownst to most everyday drivers, strength and endurance are key in the sport. Drivers face three to four Gs while handling multi-thousand-pound race cars at the top limits of speed, “where the simplest mistake can result in the car being destroyed,” Osmer said. The pressure the body feels is very different from that felt while driving on the interstate.

“When you go through a corner on the interstate, you really don’t feel (the resistance), going 70. You might feel a little lean,” Osmer said. “But when you’re going through that same corner at double that speed, the car is literally trying to throw you out. On a track like Daytona, I actually felt like I was being pushed down like an elephant was sitting down on me!”

Ronnie Osmer wears number “55” in honor of his favorite racer, Michael Waltrip. He added the initial “R” to make it his own.

Thankfully, the worst injury Osmer has ever suffered was a bruised knee. He smiled when asked how his friends react when he is the one driving.

“My friends say sometimes I scare them because of what I do in race cars,” Osmer said. “But I am a really safe driver on the road. I’m not going to drive 100 mph!”

For more information on the book series, visit the “Keen Inspirational Media” page on Facebook. The books are available for purchase at Amazon.com. Ronnie Osmer has a Facebook fan page called “Ronnie Osmer Racing.”


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