Professionals Exchange Sport Coats for Driving Suits
A majority of the more than 220 competitors in Lowe's Motor Speedway's Summer Shootout Series are youngsters who dream of becoming NASCAR stars. However, there are also many successful professionals who exchange their sport coats and ties for driving suits and helmets each Tuesday night during the 10-race series.
Dr. Gary Shannon, an anesthesiologist from Concord, N.C., who also practices pain medicine, is among the latter group. During the Summer Shootout, Shannon juggles his patient schedule in order to live out his dream.
"I have 2,300 patients that I'm caring for now because there aren't many people practicing pain medicine," said Shannon. "On race days, I have to start at 7 a.m. and I don't stop until about 2 o'clock so I can make it to the track."
Shannon, who competes in the Fractured Prune Legends Car Masters division which features drivers ages 40 and over, started driving race cars more than 50 years ago.
"When I was 8, I got injured racing go-karts and my parents made me stop," he said. "So when I turned 50, I bought a go-kart and started again.
That's when I found out about Legends Cars and started racing them.
"I'm living my dream because I watched the legends of racing compete when I was a child and it was always a dream of mine to do this. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to realize that I am running with these guys."
Shannon's patients are often surprised to learn their doctor drives a race car.
"I'm 61 years old so when I talk about my race car, patients think I own a car and someone else drives it," he said. "But I still enjoy it and I'll race until I'm no longer competitive."
Similarly, Jim Gresham, a competitor in the Summer Shootout's Thunder Roadster division, surprises many when he climbs into the cockpit.
"When I check in, most of the time they think I want a pit pass just to watch because I am 65 years old and they are amazed that I'm going to drive," Gresham said.
The Stockbridge, Ga., resident owns Gresham & Associates, a wholesale insurance business that has over 300 employees and operates 12 locations around the country.
"People at work are surprised that I have the time and desire to race," Gresham explained. "I used to play a lot of golf, but I have pretty much eliminated that. There's a certain amount of time that I set aside to do what I want to do."
Gresham began drag racing in the early 1960s but had not been on a track for 30 years until his grandsons began racing in 2000.
"Both of them started asking me questions, so I figured I better get in the car and get a feel for it so I could answer them. I mostly do it for my grandkids because it's a family event for us, but I have to admit I really enjoy it," Gresham concluded.
Gresham's grandsons, Max and Charlie, compete in the Verdict Ridge Golf & Country Club Legends Car Pro division and the Fisher-Price Bandolero Bandits division respectively.
Forty-six-year-old Jeff Turner, of Belmont, N.C., is another professional who shuffles his work schedule in order to participate in the Summer Shootout Series.
"The best thing about it is that you can involve your whole family. With other sports like golf, you're off on your own," said Turner, who is vice president of a wholesale mortgage company.
"I have to leave work early on Mondays and Tuesdays and I get to bed late both nights," Turner said. "We leave the track around 10:30 p.m., but sometimes I don't get to bed until 1. I still show up at work at the regular time in the mornings, I just have to put on my work game face."
Turner, who competes in the Fractured Prune Legends Car Masters division, has raced sporadically during the past 25 years.
"I started in the early 1980s doing some road racing in the SCCA, and then bought a Legends Car in the mid-90s. I raced for about three years and then got out of it because I was traveling a lot for work. But now I have been back into it for three years."
Turner says many of the 60 people who work for him are amazed by his hobby.
"They think 'what is a conservative banker doing driving a race car?'" he said. "And at the track, people are surprised to find out what I do for a living.
These professionals are among the more than 220 Summer Shootout competitors who are in action each Tuesday night through Aug. 7. The series 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. 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, visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or call the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS.