CINCINNATI — Whether he's trying to get past a lacrosse defender or making a split-second decision on a race track, Elder High School senior Jackson Macenko loves the ability to compete.
"He's just one of those special kids here at Elder High School that's not painted into just one sport," Elder athletic director Kevin Espelage said. "And this young man has a unique talent in auto racing. It's been fun and interesting to follow along."
Macenko, 18, is a four-year lacrosse player and a captain for the Panthers this spring.
He's also a promising Kenyon Midget Series race car driver with aspirations of winning a championship this season.
"I've always wanted to race in the top form of motorsports on a top-tier team and win races," Macenko said. "It's just been my dream since day one."
And yes, his vehicle is purple and white - synonymous with the Elder High School colors.
The midget series race car - numbered 24 in honor of his favorite driver Jeff Gordon - is a small, lightweight open-wheel vehicle with a motorcycle engine. There is an open chassis, no doors and no windows.
Drivers have to be at times fearless, bold, aggressive and yet patient, trusting and smart.
"You have to make decisions quickly and you have to make sure they are the right ones and make them in a confident way," Elder lacrosse coach Tim Gruber said. "I've watched some of his clips online and I've streamed some of his races and watched. That kid can do things in a race car that I would be terrified to do at Daytona on a closed set."
Macenko gained a good deal of notoriety around the Elder community and beyond this past December when he defeated three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart in a midget series qualifier in Fort Wayne.
Stewart went on to win the Rumble in Fort Wayne event in mid-December with Macenko finishing second.
But, Macenko said the spotlight from that experience created plenty of momentum for his young career.
"I had a lot of people talking to me and a lot of support," Macenko said. "So it was awesome to see. It's a moment I will never forget that's for sure."
The dream of competing on the track started when Macenko was eight years old when he begged his father, Ken, for a go-kart so he could race at Lawrenceburg Speedway.
Macenko soon found success as a 12-year-old competing against drivers who were four years older than him. He won rookie of the year honors in 2019.
"I can't remember a time when I didn't have" a passion for racing, Macenko said. "There is something that fascinates me just about racing that I know a lot of other people don't see. It's something I've always wanted to do."
Gruber has no doubt that Macenko will continue to succeed. He also observes a parallel from the very different sports, too.
"The thought process I can put together is that lacrosse is so quick," Gruber said. "Things can change in seconds. Everything is a gray scenario rather than black and white. And racing would be the same thing. You have to make decisions in splits of a second."
Gruber is just as impressed with Macenko's leadership this spring as one of Elder's four captains.
"He's really good at reaching down and instead of just standing on a soapbox and just saying, 'Hey you do need to do this, hey you need to do that. Number one, he does it and number two, when he talks to you he talks from a breadth of experience rather than just talking down."
Macenko plans to attend the University of Cincinnati next school year with a focus on finance. But, he's keeping all his options open in pursuit of a full-time racing career.
"My goal is to race professionally in anything that I can," Macenko said. "If I had to choose - if I had all the choices in the world - I would choose either NASCAR or IndyCar but realistically it's wherever I can make a living doing what I love."