Area driver races to 300th victory
Speed is an illusion.
So says Tom Charles, Basehor, who pegged his 300th career feature win in modified racing Friday night at the Lakeside racetrack.
Sunday afternoon, while watching a video of the race with his wife, Dee Dee, Charles noted that the camera didn't seem to portray the 100-plus mph speeds the cars were going.
For the fans in the stands, speed is an illusion, Charles said.
"They want to see the action," Charles said. "They want to see the cars going side by side bumping and grinding, the sparks flying. As long as you get that action, the fans don't care if you're going 30 or 80 or even 100 miles per hour."
But to win the races, obviously, Charles, 42, has had to learn to drive well at high speeds. So far, he's had 22 years of practice.
Winning his 300th feature meant a lot to him, he said. But winning it at Lakeside meant even more.
Charles grew up in Wolcott, Mo., not far from the track.
"As kids we played there, swam there, flew kites there," Charles said. "I met my wife there and got married there."
Charles was initiated into racing by his father, who raced cars.
He totaled his first car during a race.
"I realized then I needed to learn more about it, so I started helping on a team."
The rest is history.
Looking back on his many wins, Charles said, "The wild thing about it is I'm not sure how we did it, but there are guys out there who have won more than that, and there are guys who will never win a feature race."
Dee Dee Charles said once her husband started winning features, the streak pretty much continued.
"We've been fortunate," she said.
There have even been times that Charles was able to pull off double wins, racing in his car and then driving a car for another owner.
When asked what it's like to drive 100 mph on a dirt track, Dee Dee's answer is:
"Well you go out on a gravel road and get your car up to 100 miles per hour. Count one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three," she said. "And then make a sharp left turn."
Above and beyond learning to control the car at high speeds, during a race there are other cars to keep in mind. Much of the driving is a study in psychology, Charles said. It has to do with psyching the other driver out, he said.
The pressure is always on the guy in the lead.
He has to drive as if his car is 40 feet wide, or to drive so that other cars can't pass him, Charles said.
"The guy out front has everything to lose, and the guy in back has everything to gain," he said.
Charles drives a modified 200 Harris, a factory-built racecar that costs about $15,000. When he's not preparing for or participating in races, he works full time as a welder in Kansas City, Kan. Dee Dee Charles, who works in North Kansas City, said racing is like another 40-hour-a-week job for her husband.
The couple recently purchased a motor home they stay in when they travel to events. She's totally supportive of his career, and jokes that she never has to worry about where her husband is or what he's doing. At the track, she's always excited about his wins, she said, and even takes the losses in stride.
"It's better than getting crashed or torn up," she said. "I'd take third place any day."