Chapter #1 – The Early Years
I guess you could say I have always had the entrepreneur inside me or a least the drive to want nice things.
I was that kid in high school that wanted to a cool car and the loud Alpine sound system. My first car was a hand-me-down from my parents, a Nissan Stanza and guess what? It wasn’t cool enough for me. So, I proceeded to beat the crap out of it until the transmission was about ready to go then I convinced my dad to sell it and upgrade me to a much cooler Mercury Capri RS(Like a Mustang GT). This was one of the 1st of many things I visualized and made happen over the years. I guess it was a youthful attempt at setting a goal and making it happen.
Once I had the cool Black Capri RS I had to have a banging sound system so I could drive around and bump Easy E and NWA around the local malls and loitering hangouts. There was no chance my parents were buying me a killer sound system, so I always had to have a stream of income from something, it started back at the local country club as a caddy at 12 years old for a few years.
Then, I had a part time gig after school helping my out around the shop at my parents’ friends trucking company and on weekends at the local airport doing line(fuel) service for planes and jets for another one of my parents’ friends companies. I was around a lot of mechanics and I always had a love for mechanical toys, I had an Atv 3 wheeler, multiple snowmobiles over these years, a mini bike, a BMX bike through the Jr High and High School years. Since I grew up in the rural suburb, I always found ways to convince my parents to get me the “fun stuff” the other kids had in the area. Again, I would visualize what I wanted and somehow found someway to make it happen with some pretty persistent tactics on my parents.
The First Business
Looking back on this adventure, I really don’t know how I pulled it off with basically very little skills and very little money. I guess this was my 1st taste at “where there is a will there is a way.”
I used to enjoy finding old cars in the area and turning them into “Spectator Race Cars” at the local speedway aka, Sycamore Speedway. Basically, the formula was simple: find a beater car something from the 7’s or early 80s, buy it running for as cheap as possible, usually $100 to $250, take or knock the windows out and you were racing! One of my best “race cars” was an Chevy Impala station wagon, this thing had a some horsepower and really hugged the track if you can believe it. I actually won a few races in this beast and that is when I caught the racing bug. One might say you get it the competitive feeling “in your blood.”
After I had been bitten by the race track bug, I actually started my own racing team when I was 18 years old. I went ahead and just skipped the natural progression from spectator class, to late model class, to the top cars the super late model class. I figured, why waste time? I want to be a top driver so let’s have a super late model team. Racing on this level required some skills and plenty of $$ and I had neither at the time, but I had that drive to make it happen.
I found a chassis that no one seemed to want, bought parts at swap meets, and from guys that always wanted newer stuff and would sell me used stuff cheap, and found a killer mentor to help set the car up and teach me some driving skills. I found help with a local body shop for paint and welding. I had a buddy mechanic from the airport where I worked to help me with the engine stuff, and I had a crew of best friends that helped me make it all come together week after week.
The 1st super late model we had was good for the 1st couple of years. It was a beast, way too heavy to be super competitive, but none the less, it was a great car for learning how to drive. I rarely made the fast heats, but here and there I would win some races with the slower cars, good enough to win rookie of the year in my 1st season. We keep getting better every week and by the second season I was winning in the slower car heats all the time, but the car was just not competitive with the “Big Dogs” and the big money cars that were winning the features.
So, I went on another mission, after the second season and found a lighter bare chassis for pretty inexpensive, one that if done right could surely get me to the next level. The guy who sold it to me, knew was he was doing an helped me get this thing set up right and weighted properly and when I rolled in that 3rd season I was ready to rock! I wasn’t the best driver, nor did I have the car with the most money put into it, but I had heart, a good team around me, and was fairly often making the fast heat and running competitive with the top cars. Throughout the 3rd and 4th season we improved every week, had a number of fast heat wins, but never won a feature, but we were in the top 10 in points here and there and we were having fun.
I had to grow up
I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just finished college at Northern Illinois University in the spring of 1995 and the 5th season of racing was upon us. My parents were on my ass about getting a “real job” back then people went to college to get a real job. I had some local offers in Chicago Land and an offer for a job in North Carolina, so it was a tough decision to keep doing what I was doing work and race cars or pick up my life and start over in another state. Well, I choose the other state. I liked the upside of that offer the best, and the team and myself were kind of over the time and energy it took to run the stock car scene competitively.
The Final Race
Its like it’s happening while I am writing this, the decision was made to sell the car and move to another state. I had one last night of driving to show off the car and get some $$ for it before I moved. I was pretty excited that night and we had 4 years of experience, and 2 full years of tweaking this car. I qualified that night with the fastest time of any car, did well in the fast heat and the feature and was able to sell the car the next week for a decent price to another up and coming guy. He got a deal for the fastest car on the track, ready to race, and 100% done.