Chase Mattioli proved at an early age that he wasn't afraid to make a gutsy move.
"I was 7 years old when I walked into my grandfather's office, slapped my hand on his desk and said, 'I want a job,' " Mattioli recalled recently with a chuckle.
The man he barged in on was Joseph "Doc" Mattioli, the founder of Pocono Raceway and an imposing figure - equally capable of making rivals cringe with his glare and baritone voice or disarming new acquaintances with a wide smile and booming belly laugh.
"He said, 'All right, I've got something for you,' " Chase Mattioli continued. "He got out two huge trash bags and took me out to the middle of the track and said, 'OK, pick up all the cigarette butts.' I came back four hours later and told him I quit."
That scene played out in the summer of 1997, when tobacco money powered NASCAR's top series, and packs of cigarettes were given away trackside throughout race weekends.
The experience provided a dual lesson for Chase Mattioli, who came to realize that corporate sponsorship keeps motor sports' wheels turning, and that bloodlines would not guarantee a cushy job. It also led him to pursue two dreams simultaneously - with the 20-year-old currently majoring in marketing at Fordham University while also competing fulltime in the ARCA Racing Series.
Sporting a new helmet adorned with the Flyers' colors and logos, Mattioli will drive the No. 17 Ford in Saturday's Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 200 (1 p.m. start, television replay on SPEED at 4 p.m.). On Sunday, he'll return to the track and escort sponsors to the corporate suites to watch NASCAR's stars battle in the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 (TNT, 1 p.m.).
Having just completed his sophomore year at Fordham, Mattioli raves about the world of business possibilities he discovered while living in New York. Even the hours spent in his dorm room practicing on a racing simulator proved beneficial, giving him a solid baseline for the weekend races. Yet, as he returns to Pocono at No. 14 in the ARCA standings after six races, it's apparent that Mattioli cherishes the chance to be back among loved ones.
"My grandmother [Rose Mattioli] is a one-person love-and-support system that can't be rivaled by anyone. But I do get calls from her every day, asking when I'm going to apply to law school," Mattioli said with a laugh. "I can't really blame her for being nervous when I'm on the track, because my grandparents have seen so many [racing fatalities] over the years."
Along with the support of his parents and an older brother, Mattioli also has a friendly "rivalry" with his cousin, Nick Igdalsky, a 32-year-old Pocono Raceway vice president who also competes in the ARCA Series. (Nick's brother Brandon, 34, is president of Pocono Raceway).
Although younger, Mattioli is the more veteran ARCA racer and spent part of Memorial Day turning laps in a passenger car on Pocono Raceway's triangular-shaped trackoval, offering Nick pointers on how to get through the turns smoothly.
"There's no competition between us," Mattioli explained. "It's more like how can we help each other? It's really cool to have family in the series, but to have a friend that you can really rely on and lean on is really special."
Comfort also comes with racing at Pocono, even though events seemed to have conspired against Mattioli in four starts on his "home" track, producing finishes of 16, 32, 32 and 36.
"People think there's a lot of pressure on me to race [at Pocono], but it's actually the opposite," Mattioli said. "I'm not racing in front of corporate sponsors, it's my mom and dad and grandparents. Whether I get out of the car in first or 43d, I know they're going to be very supportive - and that we're going home for dinner together."
Mattioli was seven when he began racing on the Lehigh Valley Quarter Midget Racing Club track in Long Pond, Pa., a dirt oval which lies in the shadow of Pocono Raceway's third turn. Along the way, he's done odd jobs - typically unpaid - around his grandparents' speedway, including cleaning toilets.
As a teenager, he caught the acting bug while attending Scranton Prep.
Now, blending his skills on and around the track with a personable and outgoing demeanor, Mattioli feels he is laying the foundation for success on whichever path his career takes him.
"I'm in no rush to decide what I'll do with the rest of my life," he said. "I was always told to do something you love for 10 years and give it a really good shot. Would I love to race in Cup? Absolutely. But there are so many opportunities to work in throughout NASCAR, whether it's as a corporate sponsor, a team owner, a track owner, in team public relations or even in the media.
"One thing I do know is that I'm always going to be involved in racing. It's what I love to do."