(originally published in 2013)
I’ve spent the last week wracking my brain trying to come up with just the right race to share this week. But then I got thinking, people can read all the stories and stats they want on the internet but what they can’t read about was my dad’s unselfish desire to bridge the gap and help see racing through to the next generation.
Over the last several years of his career my dad had a new sense of youthfulness at the track. He began to comment on and take note of the talent he saw in some of the younger, up and coming drivers. He would even help a few of them out once in a while but not too much of course.
He had no fear of being replaced. He knew that he could still beat anyone out there. But it was like he knew that every kid out there once stood at the fence just like he did and said, “I can do that.” He either wanted to help them achieve their dreams or maybe he just wanted some fresh competition.
My dad, like most drivers, planned to race until he wasn’t competitive anymore. Young drivers often joked with him signing hero cards with, “Happy Retirement Soon Please!” or saying things like, “would you just retire already.”
We all hear stories of great racers especially from the Midwest. But I think some of my favorite stories about my dad are the ones that show how he impacted younger generations.
Even a few current ARCA Midwest Tour drivers had the right idea. When he was little, Skylar Holzhausen’s mom and dad used to ask him who was going to win whenever my dad and his would be racing against one another. Skylar’s response, “Joe Shear.”
There was a time when a young driver came over to apologize for a not-so-clean driving job. My dad didn’t get mad. He just shook that kid’s trembling hand and said, “It’s okay, you’ll learn with experience.”
Once when he was asked for advice about starting on the front row for the first time, in all seriousness my dad said, “It’s the worst place to be because it’s a lot harder to hold everyone off and it looks worse when you go backwards than when you go forward.” Was he trying to be funny? Probably. Was he speaking the truth from experience? Definitely.
Early in his career, I remember Scott Wimmer saying things like, “your dad talked to me!” or “I touched your dad’s car,” in a semi-joking way. Of course I would laugh a little bit and think to myself, what’s the big deal?
But then I realized that to guys like Scott and so many others, it was a big deal. They were competing against one of the guys that their dad, uncle, grandpa, or other personal racing heroes had raced against. Whether they loved him or hated him didn’t matter, he was one of the best and they were going to have to go up against him.
There was one young, up and coming driver in particular that my dad spent a lot of time with both on and off the track. That driver was Matt Kenseth. The two of them could be seen joking around at the track or you might have even found them out on the golf course on a nice day, not that either one of them was a very good golfer at the time.
My dad recognized and respected Matt’s talent. He pushed Matt’s driving skills to the limit. That was his way of making a driver give every ounce of what they had in order to be their best. The two of them even had a little challenge of who could add a “zero” or two to whose number by the end of each race.
I came across a quote said by my dad after he finished second to Matt at Madison International Speedway:
“He’s the best, which is why I recommended him” [to race for Nielsen], Shear said. “He not only knows how to drive, but he sets chassis and builds cars. He does it all. I’d rather have Matt beat me than anybody else.”
He’d rather have a young gun beat him more than anybody else? If that statement doesn’t say that my dad had a hope for the future generations and the future of stock car racing, I don’t know what would.
My dad never had the chance to see the future success of any of the drivers he spent the time helping or encouraging before he died. But I believe that’s part of being legendary, leaving the legacy behind and hoping that your influence on the sport carries on with or without you.