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. 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.

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).

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."

Mattioli was seven when he began racing on the Lehigh Valley Quarter Midget Racing Club track in Long Pond, Pa. Along the way, he's done odd jobs - typically unpaid - around his grandparents' speedway, including cleaning toilets.

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.

"One thing I do know is that I'm always going to be involved in racing. It's what I love to do."

If You Go

The track: Pocono Raceway is on Route 115 in Long Pond, Pa. Take the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-476) to Exit 95. Take I-80 east toward Hazleton/Mount Pocono to Exit 284, head south on Route 115 for

3 miles.

Friday's on-track events: ARCA Series practice, 10:15 a.m.; Sprint Cup Series practice, noon; ARCA Series qualifying, 1:45 p.m.; Sprint Cup Series qualifying, 3:40 p.m.

Television: Sprint Cup Series practice (SPEED, noon); NASCAR Live (SPEED, 3 p.m.); Sprint Cup Series qualifying (SPEED, 3:30 p.m.); NASCAR Now (ESPN2, 6 p.m.); Trackside at Pocono (SPEED,

6:30 p.m.).

Tickets: Call 1-800-722-3929 or check the track's website at www.poconoraceway.com.

- Pete Schnatz EndText