Race cars don’t tell the story

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When it comes to racing, cars don’t tell the story, people do.
Sometime this year, you will hear Lancaster Speedway announcer and track spokesman Duane Goins mention the names of Timbo Mangum, Robbie Helms and a host of other track drivers.
But chances are you won’t hear Goins mention the names of Danny “Pee Wee” Ellis and Brandon Holmes.
But trust me, Helms knows who Pee Wee is, and Mangum knows who Holmes is. All you have to do is ask them.
Pee Wee is a member of Helms’ pit crew and Holmes is a wrench turner for the “T1 Nation.”  
“If it wasn’t for these guys, none of us would be racing,” Mangum said. “Just wouldn’t happen.”
That’s because among the Lancaster Speedway regulars, you won’t see the logos of national department stores, home improvement chains and M&Ms adorning their race cars.
Instead, you see local sponsors like M&M Garage, Muffler and Tire, Rudy’s Lawn Service, Mid-Carolina Masonry and Montgomery Towing painted on hoods, deck lids and quarter panels.
And you won’t see any big paychecks, either.
Most racers will tell you they feel blessed if they can break even.
If you think steel-belted radials and gasoline at the pump is expensive, then go price 108-octane racing fuel and McCreary Tires. You will get a keen respect for what these weekend warriors face. But they can stay at it, thanks to volunteer crew members like Ellis and Holmes.
In the upcoming months, Helms will see Pee Wee, along with crew members Warren Bailey and Billy Culp, at least two nights each week, and three, if Saturday counts.
“You can’t do it without them,” Helms said. “You can’t do it by yourself.”
Pee Wee caught the racing flu as a youngster. The first time he saw the half-mile dirt oval, Pee Wee wasn’t much older than Jared Smith, who was featured in a story on Lancaster Speedway in the March 14 edition of The Lancaster News.
In those days, Pee Wee said he had one of those bright red, “Lancaster Speedway – Home of Racing Every Night” bumper stickers on his bedroom door. He said his grandfather, “Hawg-Jaw,” was a regular at the track.
“When he got ready to come up here, he was ready,” Pee Wee said. “He’d call you once and if you weren’t ready to go, you got left behind.”
Then, there is Holmes, who is part of the story behind the story.
For Holmes, who works in the auto body repair shop at a Myrtle Beach car dealership, watching the action from the grandstands isn’t good enough.
Saturday, March 10,  had already been a long day for Mangum and his crew. After engine trouble in his Crate Model at Carolina Speedway the previous night, the team rushed home and put a different motor in the car for the afternoon practice at Lancaster.
When Mangum’s hauler pulled into the race shop about midnight Friday, Holmes was waiting on them. Dirt racing is in his blood, too. But he can’t tell you how it got  there.
“To be honest, I have no idea why I do it,” Holmes said. “I wanted to do it my whole life and, somehow, I got hooked up with these crazy sons of a guns. Once it’s in your blood, you just can’t get it out.”
Is it insanity or dedication? You decide.
Mangum’s crew finished the motor change about 3 a.m. that day and showed up for the Lancaster Speedway practice session with both of Mangum’s race cars, the T1, a Crate Model, and the No. 5 Chevrolet Monte Carlo owned by Jeff Langley.
Mangum will drive the Langley car in the ultra-competitive Super Street division at Lancaster Speedway in 2012.
The practice session went well after a few adjustments, but the T1 Nation’s day didn’t end there.
After testing, they packed up the hauler and headed back to Carolina Speedway, where Mangum drove the No. 5 in a preliminary feature as part of 12th Annual Skyler Trull Memorial at the Gastonia, N.C., track.
Since Mangum left that track early Friday, he didn’t get to qualify for the March 10 feature event and started at the rear of the field.
However, when the checkered flag fell, the hard-charging Mangum had finished third.
You know, I doubt if Holmes’ name was ever called over the PA system that night. Just like countless other dirt racing junkies, nobody knew who he was.
But Timbo Mangum knows.
Just ask him.
Cars don’t tell the story, people do.