From bike paths to racetracks, professional racecar driver and UCSB student Nick Mancuso lives life in the fast lane.

While at UCSB, the 21-year-old Illinois native received the 2007 National Rookie of the Year award from the Sports Car Club of America, a US-based autocross, rally and road-racing organization. Mancuso – who drives production line cars personally modified for racing – may have a lot on his mind while hugging turns, but the driver said he does not let the potential danger of his sport distract him.

“I don’t really have time for palindromic thoughts mid-corner,” Mancuso, a third-year business economics major, said. “Whether you’re taking a corner at five miles per hour or 100 miles per hour, you have to be completely focused.”

Although he may be a professional racecar driver, Mancuso said he abstains from abusing his title to impress the local ladies.

“It’s tough to drop that line without sounding like an arrogant prick,” Mancuso said.

During the 2007 season, Mancuso found himself close to clenching a national championship but fell from first place to third after a last minute collision.

“Last season I came about 100 yards from a national championship, but I got taken out on the last corner before the checkered flag,” Mancuso said. “The guy who took me out was a five-time national champ, so I don’t think he felt like losing to a rookie in his eighth race.”

Despite the defeat, the loss has not discouraged the student racer, who is currently driving for Volkswagen in the 2008 Jetta TDI Cup Series. The environmentally friendly race relies on the new Jetta Clean TDI diesel sedan and clean diesel technology.

“It’s kind of a revolutionary series because it’s promoting environmental consciousness,” Mancuso said. “These new cars we use get 20 miles to the gallon in races.”

The environmental focus doesn’t stop at the cars, as the racing series is also certified as carbon neutral and all carbon emissions from the event are either reduced or completely offset.

“They calculated everything for the races, and they are actually going to plant trees after the series to make sure that the events leave no carbon footprint,” Mancuso said.

The UCSB racer is currently in 12th place in the series but said he hopes to better his standing in the upcoming events.

Although Mancuso insists his racing career does not impair his academic responsibilities, he admits other aspects of his life suffer from his commitment to the sport.

“Racing probably hurts my partying more than my schooling,” Mancuso said. “I’m gone most weekends, but I just have to focus on how bad I want it.”