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The Drive For Speed And Mechanics Extends Beyond The Oval For Casey Dawson

By David Seigerman | June 22, 2021, 4:06 p.m. (ET)

Casey Dawson has always been a Car Guy.

A typical childhood fascination with Hot Wheels evolved into model car collecting, before yielding his teenage years to “Top Gear” on the TV and Lamborghini dreams. 

Dawson’s father, an electrical engineer by training and trade, knows enough about cars that he’d attempt to fix whatever occasional problems plagued the family vehicle, teaching his son what he could with each tinkering opportunity. Most important, he knew enough to know when a repair exceeded his DIYer capabilities and it was time to turn over the job to the professional mechanics down at the shop. 

When Dawson finally got a first car of his own — a BMW in “kinda faulty” condition — he and his dad would team up to tackle the inevitable minor issues.

“We took it apart, replaced some parts on our own. I always had fun sitting in the garage, doing that with him,” said Dawson, a member of US Speedskating’s Long Track National Team. “Most of the time, we didn’t really know what we were doing. But we figured it out.”

His passion for cars initially may have been fueled by the siren song of speed. But the attraction matured into something more intellectual, more tangible, more practical, a curiosity rooted in those garage sessions with his father spent figuring it out.

Now, Dawson is drawn not just to the question of how fast a car can go but how a car can go so fast.

“I’ve always been interested in moving parts, learning how things move. I’ve been interested in that my whole life,” Dawson said. “I’m big into how cars work, and robotics in general. I love understanding how each part moves individually and how that interacts with the other parts.”

Dawson, 20, is a student at the University of Utah, majoring in computer engineering, where the focus is more on software than hardware. But he also remains a perpetual student of speed, and he is his own ongoing experiment in the perfection of mechanical execution.

On the speedskating oval, Dawson is coming off a season in which he won the 10,000-meter title at the U.S. championships back in March. Eight days before that, he set a national record — and a track record, just as impressively, considering the international competition that has skated at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns — in the 3,000, an event he wasn’t even training for.

“We’d been doing a lot of specific training, a lot of 3K work to build up a faster pace for the 5K,” Dawson said. “It was a race to see where I’m at, to see what I can do in this race and also how I can translate that into longer races, like a 5K and also potentially to a 10K.”

Mission accomplished.

Dawson approaches his training like the engineering student and lifelong mechanical enthusiast that he is. His pursuit is not a finish line, per se, but improving the performance of his body as a racing machine. 

That formula is under constant reevaluation: How many skating strokes is the right amount for Dawson to take in the straightaway sections of a racing oval? How many strokes should he take through each corner? What is the most aerodynamic position for Dawson’s body to be in to minimize drag while circling the track, and how can he train his body to physically maintain that position for all 25 laps of a 10K race?
 
“It’s those two things — having physical fitness and the mechanical advantage of finding a good way to make your way around the track as fast as you can,” Dawson said.

Which is why he and his teammates will be spending this critical summer building endurance through high-altitude cycling in the mountains of Utah and developing skating-specific strength through inline skating workouts in an empty park-and-ride lot near a middle school in Park City. Anything to help optimize their individual racing machines in advance of the world cup qualifiers and eventual Olympic trials bearing down on them this fall.

The chance to compete in the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 is something Dawson has been working toward his entire life — though his competitive pursuits extend beyond skating. 

While he was training with the U.S. junior national team, Dawson was part of Park City High School’s highly regarded Robotics team. Every year, they would build robots to meet the combination of tasks specified for a particular competition, which could be stacking blocks in a particular order or shooting balls into a hoop. Once, his team had to build a robot that could function autonomously, reading a picture and performing a task without being controlled to do so by a person. 

Dawson’s job even then was to focus on making sure all those moving parts would be able to do whatever would be asked of them.

“It was really fun, and I loved it,” said Dawson, who had to miss his team’s trip to the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics world championship in Texas because he was competing elsewhere in speedskating. “I hope to do some of that in the future. Maybe not robotics, but other things that relate to robotics.”

Dawson can imagine an eventual career with an innovative company like Tesla. He is intrigued by artificial intelligence, and the chance to create safe-driving technologies that would be available to all drivers everywhere.

That dream, however, is down the road.

Ideally, his first stop would be Beijing 2022 — which, presumably, would make up for missing out on that robotics world championship.

“For sure,” said Dawson. “To be able to make an Olympic team would be a dream of mine.”

A dream he is working hard to figure out.

David Seigerman

David Seigerman is a veteran sportswriter, producer, author and the producer/writer/host of the new sports podcast, Out Of Left Field. He is a freelance contributor to USSpeedskating.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Casey Dawson