From Summer Shootout Spectator to Title Contender
In just five years, John Ellenburg has gone from watching Lowe's Motor Speedway's Summer Shootout from the grandstand to challenging for the championship in the series' Pull-A-Part Legends Car Semi-Pro division.
"It all started when my dad and I went to the Summer Shootout as spectators," said the 17-year-old Concord resident. "My mom had taught me how to drive around the neighborhood when I was 7 or 8 and after attending the races, I got really interested.
"Then, one day we went to 600 Racing in Harrisburg and bought a race car," added Ellenburg, who made his Summer Shootout debut in 2003 driving a Bandolero.
Prior to the final race of the 2005 Summer Shootout, Ellenburg received the Spirit of the Legend Award. The prestigious honor is presented to the competitor who best exemplifies the series' founding principles of competitiveness, determination and, above all, sportsmanship.
"I couldn't believe they called my name. I was really excited, it was awesome," he said. "They say that receiving the Spirit of the Legend Award is bigger than winning a championship. I think I got it because of my attitude. I always try to keep calm and under control when things happen.
"My attitude normally sets me apart from my competition. I don't really get frustrated as easily as everyone else. If I have a problem, I just try to dissect the problem before I get all upset," Ellenburg explained.
Ellenburg has played basketball, soccer, football and participated in karate, but says it is racing's intense level of competition he enjoys the most.
"Racing is one of the most competitive sports out there," he said. "When you race, it is way more important to win, way more serious and way more involved than any of the other sports in which I've participated.
"There is definitely a lot of competition at the Summer Shootout," Ellenburg added. "The top 15 cars are about dead-even in the Semi-Pro division. There is a lot of competition and that is why I love racing in the series."
Ellenburg's parents, Garland and Charlotte, play an important role in their son's racing activities.
"My mom keeps me motivated. She helps me a lot. If it wasn't for my mom, I don't think I would be able to race the way I do," he said. "My dad has taught me how to act professionally and how to present myself. He also helps me with sponsors since he is a salesman.
"DNS Auto Wholesale Inc. in Concord is my main sponsor. They have helped me for about a year and a half now and I can't thank them enough because they have stuck with me."
Ellenburg maintains a rather unique schedule in order to balance his home schooling, his job at Devo's Motorsports and his racing activities.
"I get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and do schoolwork, and I am usually out by around 9:30 a.m.," Ellenburg said. "I get to the shop around 10:15 and I work there until about 5 p.m. I have been working at Devo's for about six months now. We service at least 11 Legends Cars a week and stay really busy. During the evenings that I'm not racing, I usually just try to get some sleep."
Although Ellenburg greatly enjoys working on Legends Cars, he hopes his future is focused more on driving.
"I would really like to get a driver development deal with a NASCAR team," he said. "It would be really nice to start with the late models and then work my way up. If I could get with a good team with good equipment, I could really show myself and do well. It would be nice to race in the NEXTEL Cup series one day."
Lowe's Motor Speedway's 14th annual Summer Shootout, which runs each Tuesday night through Aug. 7, features three classes of Bandolero racing, four divisions of Legends Cars and the Thunder Roadsters.
Admission is just $7 for adults. Children 6-12 are admitted for $3 and kids under 6 are free. Tickets are available in advance at the speedway ticket office and at Gates 4 and 5 the night of the event. Parking is free.
Spectator gates open at 5 p.m. with preliminary action at 5:30 p.m. Feature racing begins at 7:30 p.m. For information, call the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.