By DAVID GREEN
Most guys would have walked away from auto racing if they had a start like Rob Price. They certainly wouldn't have driven away.
Rob was only 15 years old when he got the racing bug. He bought a ’76 Chevelle and wanted to take it across the Ohio border to the Oakshade Raceway.
“I told my dad this is what I wanted to do and I was going to do it,” he said.
That’s not an idea his dad embraced. True, he was the one who got Rob interested in the race track, but after all, this was a 15-year-old kid who didn’t yet have a driver’s license. That fact doesn’t have any impact on whether or not a person can race on the track, but it did have an impact on Rob's dad.
Rob and a friend got busy tearing the Chevelle apart, but his father stepped in.
“Dad said I couldn’t do it until I was 16 and had some driving experience. I don’t regret it,” Rob says.
That’s easy to say now, but he wasn’t that happy at the time. Furthermore, his father had one other demand. Rob wasn’t going to take the Chevelle onto the track for his first try. He would begin with an old street car and give that a go before sinking money into the creation of a racing vehicle.
“I was three laps into my first race and I hit the wall and totaled the car,” Rob said. “That was basically because I thought I knew it all.”
That was 16 years ago and Rob has come a long way since smacking into the wall.
“I’ve pretty much been in the top 10 in the last eight years,” he said, referring to Oakshade’s bomber class of racing.
Three seasons ago he finished in second place, then dropped to third in 2002. But this year he went all the way, posting the most points of anybody in his class. He’ll be honored as the bomber champion at the track’s annual banquet Saturday night.
Three classes compete at Oakshade Raceway. On the top is the late model class. These cars feature a racing chassis and are racing equipped. And they cost a lot of money to create and maintain.
One step down is the sportsman class. Tires are smaller and after-market bodies are allowed.
Drop on down to the bomber class and you're talking factory body and parts.
"A bomber is a street stock version of a race car," Rob explained. "It's a street legal car that's been modified. The suspension and rear end are stock. Everything else we can pretty much do."
And that's where the fun begins. For Rob, it's a tossup between what he likes best—building, maintaining and fine-tuning a car or actually racing it.
Since the season ended in September, Rob's car is now in the garage behind his house looking like anything but a race-ready vehicle.
"Everything that's bolted onto the car gets taken off," he said. "The chassis is looked over with a fine tooth comb looking for cracks. Every year the motor gets redone.”
During the season, there's weekly maintenance and checking the car over to see that everything's tight. Rob also spends time checking various weight alignments in hopes of making the car handle better.
He says that Skeet Reckner is the mastermind behind his car. Skeet was the original builder of the vehicle.
"When I have questions, I call Skeet and ask him why it was done that way."
Billy Williams played a role in much of the current incarnation of the vehicle and Danny Schaffer has helped keep things running.
"Danny's always been there when I needed him," Rob said, "like for late night repairs."
Chris Howard also races a bomber, when he has the time. Two years ago, when Rob blew a motor and Chris was busy with work, Chris gave Rob his motor to help him finish out the season and take second place.
At the track
Eighty to ninety bombers show up for a typical Saturday night at Oakshade and the stands are usually packed. The night starts off with the preliminary heat races to determine who advances on the main A show of the night. Rob made it into the A race all summer long, which means more cumulative points than the B or C races.
In the heats, drivers travel eight times around the 3/8 mile clay track. In the feature, 20 cars travel 15 laps. There's some luck of the draw over starting line placement, and it's hard to start at the tail and finish in front.
"There's lot of lead changes," Rob said, "and there's always an accident. It's like racing on ice for us with our tire size."
Rob can't remember seeing a serious injury in years. Drivers are protected by a fire suit, helmet, neck collar and five-point harness.
"We're protected pretty decent in there," he said, but added, "I have been knocked out a couple of times."
Anyone can win on any given night.
"My strategy is to get to the front as quick as I can before chaos happens," Rob said. "I try to anticipate what the others are going to do and go where they aren't."
Consistency plays a big part in earning points—Rob had only two first-place finishes last summer—and it's essential to get across the finish line and avoid the DNF (did not finish).
The payoff for winning a race is only $200, but nobody is in this for the money. With all the time and resources required, it's only for the love of racing, of course.
"My wife, Heather, backs me 100 percent. My parents back me 100 percent."
He'll need that next April when he heads back to Oakshade to defend his title.
It been a long time since Rob Price went to a race with his father and told him, "I'm going to do this some day, Dad. This is cool."
In must be in the genes. Rob is hearing that same line now from one of his sons.
-November 12, 2003