Story and photo by Patrick Reynolds
“My dad never did anything with me. I’m trying to make up for it, I guess.”
Tony Armour spoke these words as he watched his son Justin scrape red clay from their family-owned four-cylinder stock car in the pit area at Carolina Speedway.
My father had his faults, but we also had racing together, and racing was a common bond that I could see in the Armours.
The track is four-tenths of a mile dirt oval carved out of the Gastonia, NC countryside. My visit to their weekly Friday night race program was like attending a party where you did not know anyone; however all of the guests were happy to see you. They weren’t my people walking into the place but, were my kind of people- strangers walking into the pit gate and then friends walking out of the pit gate.
Brandon White had won six feature events in the track’s Super Street division and won once in the Thunder Sportsman. I asked and learned about both of White’s engines, cars and work schedule. I was also told about his team owner, father, and grandfather who were in attendance. None of this came from White himself but from his wife Mandy. She even mentioned their next-generation race driving plan in case the couple has a daughter in the coming years.
Parked up pit road from White was fellow Super Street competitor Rusty Whiting and his Dad. They had not raced in about a dozen years and were enjoying their return to weekend dirt racing competition. They allowed me a close up look at their race car, a cold drink, a seat inside their trailer to grab some shade from the hot afternoon sun, and an offer to stand on top of their trailer’s viewing deck to watch the racing action. Our friendship clock may have hit six minutes by the time all of this was afforded me.
Across the pit aisle was parked the Armour’s bright red car. Justin and crew member Tyler Brown shared shop photos of the car, older crashed cars, and video from a violent flip by Justin last season at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, SC. I was trusted with cell phones from two young guys who knew me about the same time frame as the Whitings.
Tony Armour sported a smile when he estimated getting back to their shop around 2:30 Saturday morning, and looked forward to getting up later that day to prepare and race again with his son that night in Gaffney where Justin leads the championship standings in their class. If Tony wanted to make up for time his father did not spend with him, he is certainly doing just that with his son.
White claimed his second checkered flag of the year in the Thunder Sportsman. He recovered from a Super Street crash to salvage a third-place finish.
Whiting was as high as third in his feature but mechanical problems sidelined his efforts. He admitted he had the wrong rear gear ratio to compete for the win.
Armour rounded out his night with a second-place finish feature finish despite a skipping engine that the team has been trying to diagnose.
These three teams came to the track as families. Walking through Carolina Speedway’s pit area, husbands, wives, father, moms, and children made up so many groups of competitors and I took a random snapshot through chance meetings. Eyesight told me that family stories were present at each pit stall.
My career through major-league professional motorsports has seen changes in money, attitudes and personalities. They can be like formal jacket-and-tie affairs- nice to be there but sometimes stuffy and stiff.
Grassroots weekend racing has a flavor that hasn’t evolved since I began attending over 40 years ago. They are picnics where there are only strangers by the strict definition. Friendships and brotherhood are mere moments away if you take a second to say hello. I didn’t need to take a friend to the track. Friends were already there waiting to be made.
Tony Armour told me about his Dad not doing things with him when he was younger. Carolina Speedway’s pit area was full of families that will not be telling that story to anyone in the future.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://racersreunion.com/podcast-library . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.