(Originally written in 2013)
When I was asked to write a couple stories about my dad leading up to the “5th Annual Joe Shear Classic,” my initial response was one of hesitation. It felt, for lack of a better word, selfish, to be writing about my dad as a racing legend even though I know that he was. However after some discussion and organization of my thoughts I came to this conclusion, “My dad or not, the guy has a race run in his honor every year with one of the most prestigious racing series in the country! He must have been something!” So I’ve tried to narrow it down to a few of the most memorable races; not an easy task.
Of course in my mind there will never be anyone better than Joe Shear. But I believe it is important for new generations of fans and drivers to understand why past generation drivers are still honored and remembered. Racing may have changed a little over time, but what makes a driver a legend remains the same.
When my dad was young he stood outside the fence at Rockford Speedway on a weekly basis. One day he simply said, “I can do that.” And that he did. So it seems most appropriate that the most memorable race in his career came during the 1997 National Short Track Championship.
We had a great car the entire race and then as happens to every driver at some point, he got caught up in a wreck. Thankfully it wasn’t race-ending damage. So he came in the pits and anyone who could rushed over to help get the car back on the track. The team pulled the entire nose and then some off the car. He was then blocked in the pits and by the time he went back out he was the last driver on the lead lap. If you’ve ever been to or raced at Rockford Speedway, you know this is never a good place to be, especially nearing the end of a race.
So here he was racing a modified from the rear of the field at Rockford Speedway, one of the most physical tracks in the Midwest. He maneuvered his way to the the top five fairly quickly. When he got to second his greatest challenge was ahead of him…none other than Steve Carlson.
My dad was a very patient person and driver. He would do a lot of intimidating, but anyone who raced against him knew that they could trust him and that he would push their driving skills to the limit. He and Steve had raced against each other who knows how many times. They were probably the two most competitive drivers in the Midwest at the time.
One of the most amazing things about my dad’s driving that day was his ability to adapt to the fact that there was no front end. He knew how far under a car his nose, or shall we say, duct work would go and he would use it to his advantage. So when it was time, coming out of turn two, he made his move, sliding under Carlson and doing what Steve eventually named the “Joe Shear Slide.” He had a way of getting underneath a car and smoothly sliding without making contact. He crossed the finish line in a half modified, half late model after coming all the way from the rear of the field. The crowd went crazy!
It was one of the most amazing races in Rockford history. In fact, tears were shed that day. You see, my dad died six months later after losing a three-year battle with cancer. He was so sick that day, but he still drove like he was 20 years old. He could barely talk when he got out of the car and holding up the wreath of flowers that he had done so many times before felt like a weight bearing down on him.
My dad was a wheelman, had a passion for what he did, never made excuses even when he had every right to. But was it this one race that made him a legend? No. Legends do not become what they are because of one race, it is a career of consistency that builds over time and a lifetime of earning the respect of drivers and fans. I’d be lying if I said this was an easy memory to write about and I look forward to looking back a little deeper in his career in the next story. But I believe it was this final victory of his life that captured everything that he was as a driver and person.