The High Cost of Being A Good Ole Boy
Myrtle Beach Speedway, South Carolina
By Randall Hill
The rippled clouds loomed over the storied infield and pit area of the Myrtle Beach Speedway Friday morning as drivers and crews scurried to prepare their cars for the races later that evening. Crews dressed in heavy coats and stocking caps pulled tight over their heads gave the impression of a Nordic event instead of a springtime good ole boy NASCAR race.
Later as the sun started to warm the day and the winds subsided, the boys got down to the business of the day.
Most drivers and crew in the regional Whelen series of NASCAR were racing for the love of the sport. Most are plumbers, business owners, shop workers, guys who put in time working on their cars after their long day jobs have ended. Most have only shallow dreams of making it to the big time Sprint series of NASCAR.
“I never see my wife,” said Shallotte, North Carolina driver Justin Miliken. “I work all day at my job and then, well into the evening, I’m with the boys in the shop working on the car. But that’s what it takes to be competitive out here.”
Miliken and the others know first hand about the sacrifice the sport puts on their life and family. He and his crew led the majority of the featured race Friday evening only to crash on the last lap. Besides the loss of the $10,000 1st place purse, the team’s $40,000 car was heavily damaged and will need extensive repairs. After the race, Miliken and his crewmembers were shocked. The passion to win was so embedded in them, the loss was personal and like a death wake. Fans and family members were surrounding the driver with hugs of support as he looked off to the distance teary eyed.
Earlier that day Hartsville, South Carolina resident Bobby June had a different approach to the sport. Dressed in his blue and pink racing suit with “Tobaccoville USA” stitched across the chest, the 57 year-old driver relaxed beside his #13 car before a limited race. June supports his need for speed with sponsorship money from a cigarette manufacturing company he owns with his brother. He has been racing in the lower levels of NASCAR since 1978 and has noticed the sport costs a lot more now than in the past. “See that engine there?” June bends over and lightly touches the top of the engine compartment as if it needed gentle care. “That cost me $25,000 and it blew on the first race we took it on. She owes me one today.”
Tires are another big expense for the crews at Myrtle Beach and in the Whelen Series. A set can run about $800 and must be purchased from the track. Because of the rough racing surface at Myrtle Beach Speedway, it is common for crews to go through two sets of tires during a 250-lap race. That, combined with the price of fuel, means being a weekend warrior can be pricey.
Driver Ben Rhoads of Louisville, Kentucky holds himself with confidence outside his #41 racecar. According to the other drivers, the 16-year-old may be one of the few in the Whelen series that will get a chance at the Sprint series of NASCAR. From the pit areas he watches as crews prepare the car for the race. “I just got my learner’s permit last week so I’m now legal to drive a car in the state of Kentucky.”
Don’t take this fact as inexperience for the lanky teenager. He has been racing for two years and has a good sponsorship base behind him. Rhoads may occasionally help push his car or help move a tool but his job is to drive and his crewmembers are paid professionals.
The white #12 car driven by Asheboro, North Carolina resident Garrett Campbell is in the next pit area down from Rhoads. The sun reflects brightly off the matte surface of the car not for show but because of lack of paint. With no sponsors, the car is devoid of the customary sponsor stickers most cars have. At the fan meet and greet before the race, Garrett stands by his car with a grey hoodie pulled over his head. Children and fans flocked to Rhoads #41 car with autograph requests as Campbell sat quietly by his car.
Money brings in the fans and larger purses will bring in sponsored drivers. But most are here for the love of racing.
June said it best after he was asked how racing has changed over the years. “The only thing that’s changed is it costs more to race and the purse is less.”