My son Tennyson is three years old. He loves trains, tractors, and trucks. He watches cartoon shows like Blaze and the Monster Machines, Thomas the Train, and PJ Masks.
Most of all, though, he loves anything that has to do with race cars.
On a typical evening, we spend a couple hours in the garage. I try to work on my race car, but we usually end up racing lap after lap around it instead. My ride is a roll-around shop stool; Tennyson’s is either his tricycle or his ride-on-top Lightning McQueen car. He wins almost every race, but I occasionally out run him just to let him know he can’t win them all.
After a while, we get worn out from the racing, and we spend a few minutes lying on a creeper under the race car identifying the various parts and components of a dirt late model. Tennyson can point to just about every part under my car when I call it out to him.
Under the front, we start with the radiator and work our way back: engine, water pump, fuel pump, pullies, headers, distributor, spark plugs…
Under the back, we take our time: trailing arms, birdcage, shock, spring, limiter chain…
For some reason, he often gets the j-bar and torque arm mixed up, but we’re slowly sorting that out.
At the track, he’s a typical boy. He watches the races some, but he spends more time playing in the dirt and mud. Whether it’s racing his cars and trucks in the dirt or running in circles in the grassy section of general admission, he’s wide open all night.
Then he falls asleep on the way home and sometimes (when it’s really late) he goes to bed covered in dust.
It’s a childhood that I lived myself years ago, and one I wouldn’t dare rob my son of living.
When my wife Shadow and I had Tennyson, I had been out of racing for nearly three years, at least as far as driving goes. (I was still hanging out in the shop every now and then with my brother Joseph and going to the track when he raced close to home.)
I’ll never forget the day my daddy came to me and told me about a car we needed to buy for me to race. It was an older open wheel modified. Nothing special, but something affordable and raceable.
Tennyson was two weeks old.
“I don’t know if now’s a good time for me to buy a race car,” I told Daddy. Then I nodded at Tennyson as he squirmed around on his play mat in the living room floor.
“You need one now more than ever,” Daddy said.
He was right, and I knew it.
It took a couple weeks and a lot of pleading with Shadow, but I convinced her to let me use a portion of our savings to cover half the cost of the car. Daddy paid the other half. We bought the modified on the day Tennyson turned one month old. We raced it a few times, got it close to the front, then sold it for almost enough money to buy a late model.
Last season I raced in the Late Model Sportsman division at Southern Raceway 14 times. So far this year, I’ve raced nine times. We’ve won some races and we’ve lost some, but Tennyson has been there for just about all of them.
When I bought that modified three years ago, my mind was telling me I was making a bad decision. Shadow and I had hospital bills to pay and we were going through formula and diapers quicker than I could have ever imagined. To make matters worse, we were averaging three to four hours of sleep at night.
Adjusting to being parents wasn’t easy. I don’t suppose it ever is for anyone.
The thing was, even though I really didn’t have the money to buy a race car, and even though I was busier than I had ever been in my life, I knew what kind of childhood I wanted my son to live. I knew I wanted him to grow up like I did: loving racing and learning how to be a hard-working and driven person because of it.
I can’t tell you how many hours I spent with my daddy either in the shop or at the track when I was a kid. I’m thankful for everything I learned from him during those many nights we laid under a race car, his feet sticking out from under one side of the car, mine out of the other. He taught me more about working on race cars than I could ever put into words here, but there’s a whole lot more to what I learned in the shop than just automotive knowledge.
These days, there’s a commonly used term to describe what many people in our society are lacking.
It’s called grit.
They say that people who have grit are determined, courageous, and dependable. They’re confident, optimistic, and creative. Most of all, people with grit set lofty, long-term goals, and they have more than enough resilience and determination to work hard to achieve them.
You don’t have to spend much time at a race track or in a race shop to realize that racers are full of grit. As a matter of fact, racers are the grittiest people I know.
If nothing else, I hope that I raise my son to be a good person with a lot of grit. The best way I know to do that is to raise him around racing.
I still have a lot to learn about being a father, but one thing I know for sure is that children need a purpose when they’re growing up. A lot of kids have sports: baseball, soccer, or football. Some have music or dance. A lucky few have racing.
Earlier this season, our local newspaper, the Santa Rosa Press Gazette, ran a race report for the previous weekend’s event at Southern Raceway. It was at the top of the Sports page and the picture with the article was of me and Tennyson. In the picture, Tennyson is standing on the roof of my race car next to the trophy I had won earlier in the night. He’s holding both hands high above his head, celebrating our win like only a three-year-old can.
The trophy is taller than he is.
The picture in the paper isn’t much—just a photo of a racer celebrating with his son after winning a weekly show—but to me the picture meant a lot.
One of my original goals with this site was to put into words what motivates racers like me to spend so much time and money just to make a few laps around a race track on the weekends.
I obviously can’t speak for every racer out there, but I know I echo the thoughts of a lot of drivers when I say my son is the reason why I race. Sure, there are several other factors, but the passion I already see him developing for the sport I love is one of the main reasons why I do what I do.
I have no idea if my son will ever drive a race car. If he decides he wants to play ball, or if he takes up music, we’ll do that instead.
But what I do know is that a lot of what I learned about hard work and dedication and about passion and perseverance came from the time I spent around racing when I was a kid.
Hopefully, my son will look back years from now and say the same thing.