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A Full Circle Moment Regarding Black's Tire and My Personal (UNTOLD) Story

It was 2010; I was dabbling in the super late model scene, making a hand full of starts that year, and running Legends Car races when I could just to get seat time. But, my focus was getting into race shops—working on, learning, and fully immersing myself into the “bigger car” world. I wanted so badly the chance to make that next step to full-time late model racing, but I didn’t have a clear vision on how to make it happen.


Mid summer that year, Bruton Smith & US Legend Cars put on the biggest Legends Car race of all time which drew in 330+ cars from all over the world and they called that race the “Legends Million.” I went on to win that race, which put my name in front of folks who had never heard of me. How could things be any better for a 19-year old me at that time, right? But, still there was no clear path forward for my career. 


My Legends Car owner at the time, Hoyt Demis, had a friend who was a successful pig farmer near the NC coast, named Dale Murphy. Dale had owned short track cars in the 90’s that Hoyt had actually driven for back in those days. Mike Hester worked on Dale’s cars during this time and Mike would go on to work for Ricky Benton (owner of Black’s Tire) as crew chief for the Black’s Tire, Hooter’s Pro-Cup team, and led that race team to a lot of success.


Shortly after winning the Legends Million, Hoyt got word from Dale that their mutual friend, Mike, was back working for Ricky on a Truck Series team. Ricky had Dennis Setzer driving for him at this time and there was a ton of experience and knowledge within the walls of that shop between Mike, Dennis, and the truck chief, Bobby Gill. With one phone call from Hoyt to Mike, while no promises were made, Mike said I was welcome to come down and work in the shop to learn, gain experience and just see where it could go for me. Of course, in the back of my mind, I’m hoping this gets me closer to racing at the next level.


So, off I go! Hoyt hauls his 1/5th wheel camper down to Cerro Gordo, NC  and drops it off for me at  the local campground in town for me to live in. I lived in that 1/5th wheel and made the short 5 minute drive each day, to start work at 6 a.m. I was thrust into the “NASCAR world” for the first time ever. 


I’d watch Mike and Bobby prepare the trucks for Dennis to drive. I kept notes, asked a lot of questions, assisted them whenever I was allowed to, and ultimately just tried to soak in as much of their racing knowledge as I could. Quickly, I saw just how much effort went into getting a NASCAR vehicle ready for a race weekend, and I was hooked! I traveled to a few races with the team, ran tires and fuel during the races, and I even had to jump in the spotters stand one time to spot a practice session (I was a nervous wreck) for Dennis at New Hampshire.


Back at the shop, the team would disassemble the truck and thats where I came in… SD-20, an old toothbrush and a high-pressured air hose. Those were the tools I learned to clean a race vehicle with to perfection. What a time to be alive! But, for all this experience, everyday it seemed like I was getting further away from getting a chance to do what I actually loved… driving the race car. 


That changed after about 40 days of being with the team! It was brought to my attention that Ricky actually owned a late model stock car (I’d never in my life actually seen or driven a late model stock car before) and the team had interest in giving me a shot to drive it at the big Martinsville 300 late model race coming up in a few short weeks. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. We dusted the old car off, got it prepped for Martinsville, I was going racing! 


It couldn’t have gone any worse. We struggled at the test, but went back and felt we were close to being able to get ourselves into the race. Some guys tangled in front of me in the heat race on the first few opening laps, and knocked the radiator right out of the car…and just like that, my late model experience was over.


Down and out, I returned to the shop to figure out what was next. Something inside told me that whatever I was supposed to gain or learn from this experience, I had learned. It was time for me to move on. I thanked Ricky, Mike, Bobby, and a few others at the shop for their patience and for teaching me so many things. Hoyt came to pick up his 1/5th wheel camper I had been living in and back home we went. 


The time I spent with and the lessons I learned from the Black’s Tire Team would expose to me a life I never even knew I wanted to live…. the life of NASCAR! From that point on, the desire to keep pushing every day, no matter what hurdles would came, was all to get THAT life back… to make a life for myself in this sport. My time in Cerro Gordo gave me the confidence to work on, prepare, set up, and fix any vehicle I was fortunate enough to drive from that point on.


You never know what your current season of life is preparing you for, but know that it’s, for sure, preparing you for something. 


I’m so thankful for that season of my life and grateful for my time spent around Ricky Benton and the whole Black’s Tire group. Darlington will add to some of these memories as well as help write this current chapter of my NASCAR journey. Hope you enjoyed the read!




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