A needlepoint of the above quote hangs near my father’s desk at work. Racing really is a way of life in the Stephens house. Old photographs from races litter the walls of my dad’s office, race cars fill the warehouse, and a dark, mysterious room holds all the memorabilia from my dad’s 40+ year racing career.
My dad and uncle Richard started racing in 1974 with the NCCC, the National Council of Corvette Clubs. They traveled to surrounding states, racing in drag and solo competitions. When Hallett Motor Racing Circuit opened in 1976, my uncle joined the SCCA, the Sports Car Club of America. In 1981, my dad bought a corvette fit for racing for the SCCA, joined up, and the Stephens brothers never looked back at NCCC racing. My uncle became the course marshal, readying the course for competitions and overseeing wrecks, from the late 70s until his death in 2014. During this period, he also worked other events and traveled with racing teams. My dad was a regional executive for the SCCA for 5 years, on the board for 10, and the race chairman for 10. My dad consistently raced throughout this time, from 1981 to the late 90s. And, this is where I come in.
I was born in 1996 when my dad was still racing regularly. We traveled around the south, visiting states as far as Georgia, but of course, I don’t remember a thing. What I do remember is absolutely loving the track and my time there. My earliest recollections of Hallett, and the SCCA, is attending SCCA meetings. I was only about five, but my dad let my little sister and I help gather chairs and set up for the meeting; in order to stay, we had to be attentive listeners. When I was in kindergarten, I remember going to the SCCA banquet at the CityPlex Towers. My dad let me hand out the trophies. It was awesome.
Then, my dad took a break from racing. He was in a major custody battle for my sister and I, and focusing on that was the best thing to do at the time. However, he got back into it when I entered high school; ole’ Don couldn’t stay away from racing for too long! But, what made my high school experience different from my elementary experience, was I actually did something when I was older. When I was a kid, I had free reign of the track and a golf cart. So, you can imagine how that went.
In high school, I helped at the registration table and was my dad’s crew chief. I learned how to take tire temperatures and pressures, secure my dad into his car, and give advice over the radio. I would follow my dad down to the grid in the golf cart, make sure everything was good, then hightail it back to the spectator stands to watch the race.
In my 20 years, I have attended more races to count, more meetings and banquets, more motorhome rides, and eaten more concession food. These experiences have made me who I am today. When I was 12, I learned to drive a stick shift, on the racetrack, in the official pace car. When I was 15, I learned how to work registration and understand how much effort it takes to put a race on. I also learned to make sure I strapped my dad’s chin to his chest so he wouldn’t injure his neck in the case of a crash. I learned real-life knowledge, something school could never give me. And, that is how the track shaped me.
In Memory of Richard Lee Stephens