In the Southern Tier, many residents entrust their family health care matters to Dr. Steve Collins. But once away from the office, he trades in his white doctor's coat, stethoscope and calm bedside manor and dons a racing suit, helmet, driving gloves and controlled aggression and jumps into the cockpit of a winged, open-wheel, open-cockpit dirt track Sprint Car to do high-speed battle against his foes on the Patriot Sprint Tour.
Collins, of Belfast, and his traveling band of PST daredevils will make a stop Friday at Ransomville Speedway. Make no mistake, Collins' career as a Sprint Car driver is not just a passing fancy orchestrated by a doctor looking for something else to try. Collins is a very serious racer who grew up around the sport and was indoctrinated into the world of engines, shocks, chassis setup and other racing-oriented subjects long before he added the career of the medical world to his life experiences.
Collins arrives at Ransomville sporting two PST feature wins in 2017, one at Stateline Speedway and the other earlier this season at Ransomville. He is second in points, just 26 markers behind multi-PST champion Jared Zimbardi. Collins' Sprint Car career has been on the rise over the last few seasons.
"The medical world and racing world are two very different aspects of my life," Collins said. "I've been a doctor about 15 years now. I got my medical degree from St. George's University in Grenada. I also went to UB and I did my residency at the University of Rochester."
Before there was medicine, Collins was involved in the automotive service technology field in the late 1980s.
"I first graduated from Alfred," Collins said. "I was an auto mechanic for about five years and I liked doing that but I just couldn't quite make the living that I wanted to have so at age 25 I had my midlife crisis and quit my job and went back to school and that landed me up at the University of Buffalo where I did my undergrad work. Then I had a few snafus getting into medical school here in the States so I either had to take a whole year off or I could jump down and do some traveling. I spent two years doing degree work down in the Caribbean and actually went over and did a semester in England. Then I came back and finished up the last two years in the States."
Throughout his life Collins was always married to the sport of speed. It started with retired racing veteran Tom Taber.
"I grew up as the next-door neighbor of Tom Taber," Collins said. "I started working full time in Tom's shop when I was about 12. I worked with him all through school, high school and into my mechanical career. I became his crew chief for a number of years and then I had to leave the area to go do some schooling and got out of it a little bit.
"I was in it enough that it really gave me the bug. Part of going on and getting a better paycheck was so I could afford to do the racing. It was in the back of my mind to drive but I never thought it would come back around full circle like it has now. When I first started out working for Tom he was doing dirt Modifieds over at Woodhull Raceway and other tracks. Then he went into Late Models and one season he was running four nights a week with the Late Models in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s is when he got into the Sprint Cars.
After many years as a crew chief, Collins would eventually decide to jump behind the wheel himself.
"I was a 44-year-old rookie," Collins laughed. "That was seven years ago. I'm in my seventh year now of Sprint Car racing and I just turned 50 this year. I had been playing around with the idea of driving. I got my practice going and got a house here and started putting all the pieces together. Then I put a little money into the bank. Then I got a hold of Tom and we went on a little road tour to Pennsylvania and Ohio and picked up a bunch of parts. I picked up some used motors from Lenny Sammons of Area Auto Racing News and got some chassis' and got hooked up with Kistler's out in Ohio and got some used chassis' and a trailer out there. That got the ball rolling."
Veteran Sprint Car driver Kyle Drum also had a hand in Collins' race career development. Collins began to drive and has progressed throughout his relatively brief driving career to this point. Also assisting Collins is Lew Wright and the husband-wife tandem of Randy Granger and Patty Mountain.
"Tom had organized and started up the Patriot tour initially," Collins said. "About the time I was getting into racing Tom had just sold the Patriot tour but it was still going so that's why I've ended up supporting that tour primarily. I do also run with the Empire Super Sprints when they have races around this area. We travel to other tracks a little bit, too.
"I got my first career Sprint Car race win when I won a dash race over at Woodhull my fourth race out. My first feature win came a couple of years after that at Ohsweken Speedway. My fourth season I got my first Patriot win over at Freedom. Last year I went without a win but came close a couple times but I was thwarted by some bad luck. This season I've got two. We've shown the speed that we've needed all season long.
"Through the years we've been able to upgrade my equipment but so has everybody else. The big thing though finally is I'm getting real comfortable as a driver. I'm not only the owner, the driver, the crew chief and floor sweeper, but I'm wearing every hat here. As the driver and crew chief I can make the adjustments I need to the car without telling somebody what it's doing. Little by little I've learned everything that has tended to have taken me to that next level. Also for the first time this season I bought a new chassis. My motors from Don Ott are top-notch."
Perhaps Friday, Collins can write himself a prescription that will produce a Ransomville victory and a PST championship by season's end.