Saturday night I finished second in my first race of the season. Less than an hour later, I sold my race car.
If you had told me Friday afternoon how the weekend would go, I might have called you crazy. I’m used to being surprised by events at a race track, but I wasn’t expecting this.
The racing itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I turned the second-fastest lap in time trials, won the second heat race, and finished second in the feature. No, we didn’t win. But all in all, it wasn’t a bad night of racing: we had a good time at the track and I won enough money to keep the checks I wrote from bouncing. It’s hard to ask for much more than that.
But while we were standing around at the end of the night, talking about the race and what adjustments would have made the car faster, a man walked up and said he wanted to buy my race car. He was from Louisiana, had seen the car for sale in a Facebook group, and decided to drive over and see it in action. He had seen enough to know it was a good car and worth the money.
I had posted the car for sale back in mid-December, so the offer to buy it wasn’t completely out of the blue, but the possibility of actually selling my race car caught me off guard. To be honest, I had given up on selling it and was planning on racing it another year.
So, while the man looked over the car, I discussed the situation with my father and my brother Joseph. I refer to it as “my car” but we all three had a stake in it and a say in the decision. We’ve owned it since 2011. I've raced it the last three years, but Joseph drove it before me.
“Are we sure we want to sell it?” I asked Daddy and Joseph.
“I say yes,” Joseph answered.
Daddy said he supported whatever decision we made.
I returned to the buyer to deliver the news. “If you have the money, it’s yours,” I told him.
“I’ve got the money,” he said. “My only question is how are you going to get it to me?”
We weren’t thrilled with the idea of driving three hours to deliver the car, but we worked out a deal where he paid for the gas and let us pull some lead off the car in exchange for delivery. The man handed us a wad of cash and we shook hands on the agreement.
By eleven o’clock, we had pulled the seat and unbolted the lead, and me, Joseph, and our buddy Troy were on our way to Louisiana.
Other than an extended stop at the new Buc-ee’s in Foley, Ala., where we spent nearly $100 on an assortment of junk food and energy drinks, we made it to the man’s house with little trouble. We unloaded the car in his front yard at 3:45 in the morning, and we were back at the shop just after 7:00.
Standing around in front of the shop, I suggested we start checking the Facebook groups and classifieds websites for a good car to buy. Joseph, who drove the entire trip, agreed. Then he stretched and added, “But I’m gonna need a nap first.”
I suppose I should clarify something: I’m not getting out of racing. Selling my car was a strategic move, the outcome of which will hopefully lead to me winning more races. The best way I know to explain it is with an analogy to one of my favorite films: Jaws.
The particular scene involves a man named Brody, a boat, and a gigantic shark. After seeing the large shark, Brody is stupefied. He stumbles up to the captain and utters, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Much like Brody from Jaws, I’ve seen the gigantic shark, and I’m going to need a bigger boat if I’m ever going to catch him.
The car I sold was a ten-year-old Mastersbilt chassis. It’s a solid race car and it’ll serve the man who bought it well, but I had to sell it because it was outdated compared to some of the cars I race each week. It simply can’t do what newer chassis are doing.
But even though selling my car was something I knew I had to do, it didn’t make saying good bye any easier. It might sound crazy, but racers like me, we get attached to our race cars.
The racers who can afford it get new equipment every year. The ones on the other end of the spectrum, get a car and hold on to it for years. (I know some drivers who have been racing the same car for well over a decade.)
I’m somewhere in the middle, and I suspect that most racers are a lot like me. When we buy or build a car, we sink every bit of our money, hopes, and dreams into it. We buy something that’s a few years old, but we hope like hell we can make it go fast enough to keep up with equipment that’s brand new. We plan on racing it for several years, but we’re always looking for a way to go faster, and in the back of our mind we know that’s harder to do the older a car gets.
Nevertheless, we get attached. Like a good dog, a solid race car becomes a racer’s best friend. We spend hours with it in the race shop. We bolt on new parts and the equipment we can’t afford to replace, we clean up so that it looks like new. On the track, we get to know its tendencies, it’s likes and dislikes, its dos and don’ts.
Eventually, the car becomes an extension of ourselves. We come to know it like that back of our hand and when we slide into the seat on race day, it’s like slipping on a well-used glove that fits so perfectly you’d swear you were catching the ball with just your hand.
That’s something that doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s certainly not something that’s easily replaced. So, no, it wasn’t easy saying good bye to my race car.
When we pulled out of that man’s driveway early Sunday morning, I turned around and took one last look.
I knew I shouldn’t have.
Behind me, sitting all alone in the dim glow of a street light on the outskirts of a town I can’t even remember the name of, was the car that had never let me down in three seasons of racing. Slowly fading from view was the car that two years ago led me to my best year of racing and just a few hours before had done everything I asked it to do just like I knew it would.
It was the car that Joseph drove to a $10,000 victory several years ago in the Southern 100. The car Daddy drove one night when he decided to come out of retirement, just to see if he still had it. It was the car my twin brother Joshua drove when he came back into to town on a random weekend a few years back and the car my son Tennyson has spent hours pretending to drive in the shop.
And before we pulled onto the highway it had faded into a mist of early morning fog and disappeared from view.
If I had been alone, I would have sobbed like a baby.