For years, Casey Kirwan cheered for his favorite drivers from the grandstands at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Now the 12-year-old has gone from grandstand cheers to shifting gears in the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series.

The Matthews, N.C., native has been coming to the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series for years, watching races with his father and brother in the stands as a fan. But this year, he is behind the wheel as a competitor in the Bandolero Beginner Bandits division of the weekly racing series at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We’d been coming up in the stands to Summer Shootout for about six years and I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ve always loved racing since I was about three,” said Kirwan.

His father, John Kirwan, knew young Casey had a passion for the sport, but wasn’t quite sure how to get him started.

“He had been wanting to race since he was about 10 or so. I didn’t grow up racing in New England, so we kind of put the idea on the back burner. I wasn’t really sure how we could make it happen,” said the elder Kirwan.

That all changed last fall when Casey met 2011 Bandolero Bandits National Champion Carson Ferguson at school. Casey instantly became a sponge to everything Carson had to say about racing. The Kirwans attended the Winter Heat Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway to watch Carson race and to learn as much as they could.

“I met Carson Ferguson in school and he got to drive in the winter heats. We came and watched and at the end of the year, my dad bought their car. That’s how I got started,” said Casey.

“We did a lot of research and talked to a ton of people. Casey became friends with Dawson Cram, Tyler Farris and a couple of other racers,” said John. “Then we had to figure out the equipment thing. That was an experience.”

Casey and Carson grew closer as friends, and John now sees how the Ferguson family has mentored himself and his son.

“The Fergusons have helped set up the car, helped us learn things about the car and Carson has helped Casey learn things about driving. It’s just things you wouldn’t know if you were just walking in off of the street,” said Casey’s father.

Tony Ferguson, Carson’s father, saw Casey’s passion for racing, and hanging out at the track became a reoccurring thing for the two families.

“We got to know them by them coming to the track and they were pretty persistent. We didn’t have to say ‘hey come to the track,’ they were already there,” said Tony.

On June 12, Casey made his first start in a Bandolero car in Round One of the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series.

“I was really nervous at the beginning. I started third in the heat and came in second. We ran on the outside and we had a big move to the inside and stayed on the inside in the first turn. I came in second and I was really nervous, but it was really fun at the same time.”

In the feature race that night, Kirwan had some bad luck and wound up seventh, one lap down. Since his first start, he has claimed two top-five finishes in four races.

“So far, I’ve learned how to drive the car and how to get faster every single week. And to keep trying to get better and better so I can go for a championship next year,” said Casey. “You got to know to run clean and be patient. It’s a 20-lap race; you have some time.”

“The good thing about [Casey] is he’s watched a lot of races, he knows what is going on and it helps a lot when people are around it. Casey’s doing good, just needs seat time and that’s all it amounts to really,” said Tony.

For families interested in getting into Bandolero and Legend Car racing, Casey’s father has some words of advice.

“Be prepared to ask a lot of questions and find a good mentor,” said John.

Information on how to purchase a Bandolero or Legend Car and register to compete in the Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series can be found at www.uslegendcars.com.

The Summer Shootout Series continues Tuesday, July 24, with Round Six and the inaugural Jack in the Box Summer Shootout Series Olympics. In addition to Legend Car and Bandolero racing, kids can sign up in the POWERADE Play Zone to participate in one of three challenges including tug of war, an egg toss and a dizzy bat tire roll challenge. The Olympics will take place on the infield grass of the frontstretch quarter-mile oval.

Next Tuesday is also Summer Camp and Scouts Night. Young fans are encouraged to wear their summer camp shirt or scout uniform to gain free admission.

Gates open at 5 p.m. with opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. Tickets for the Summer Shootout Series are $7 for adults and are available in advance at the speedway ticket office or at Gates 4 and 5 the night of the event. Kids 13 and under get in free. The first 1,000 fans through the gates get a free water bottle courtesy of Jack in the Box.

For tickets to the Summer Shootout Series, call the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267) or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

For live updates during the Summer Shootout Series, follow hashtag #SummerShootout on Twitter. To join in on the conversation simply include #SummerShootout in your tweet.

Connect with Charlotte Motor Speedway on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CLTMotorSpdwy or become a Facebook fan at www.facebook.com/charlottemotorspeedway.