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Photo by Diane Cox
Carl Edwards Jr. stands next to his father, Carl Edwards Sr., on pit road just before the start of the 2016 Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 7. Edwards Sr. admitted he obtained a fake ID for his son after sneaking into a race at Godfrey Speedway when junior was only 15. Edwards Jr. won his first dirt race while underage at Godfrey in 1997.
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Photo by Diane Cox
Carl Edwards climbs the banking at Kansas Speedway during the Go Bowling 400 on May 7 in his No. 19 Stanley Toyota.
Reflecting on his humble beginnings at the former Godfrey Speedway, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards Jr. leaves no regrets on his road to success.
“I loved Godfrey Speedway,” Edwards Jr. said. “I was sad to hear it shut down a few years back. Godfrey was a really fun track to race and always had good drivers to compete against.”
In 1950, Alton Speedway opened its gates to drivers and spectators for the first season of stock car racing. Operating under names such as Alton Speedway, Ascot Speedway, Action Speedway, 67 Raceway Park and ultimately settling with Godfrey Speedway, the quarter-mile dirt track became a second home to many local racecar drivers and their families.
Located at 7115 Montclair Ave., Godfrey Speedway has nurtured drivers such as Ken Schrader and Edwards Jr. on their way to the big stage of NASCAR through ARCA, the Campingworld Truck series, Xfinity and Sprint Cup.
Most tracks require a driver to be licensed to operate a motor vehicle and Godfrey Speedway was no exception. In 1997, before Edwards Jr. became a household name in the world of professional motorsports, Carl Edwards Sr. had faith in his son’s abilities and went beyond the rules to help his son get a taste of the dirt, even though he was underage.
“Carl, our secret is finally out,” Edwards Sr. laughed as he shouted across pit road to his son at Kansas Speedway on May 7 prior to the Go Bowling 400. “I don’t think Carl even had a pit pass to get into Godfrey Speedway to be honest with you; I think we snuck him in with all the equipment. We just signed in as Carl Edwards; we didn’t tell anyone there were two of us.”
Edwards Sr. sat in the driver’s seat to run the modified heat races around the dirt oval until the cover of night. Once the sun went down, Edwards Jr. put on the racing suit and helmet and climbed into the car for the modified feature event.
Racing a full field at Godfrey Speedway, Edwards Jr. raced his way to the first position as he crossed the finish line and was forced to reveal himself on the front stretch for photos and an interview.
“Yes, I was 15 years old at the time and that was my first win on dirt,” Edwards Jr. said, smiling. “I was so nervous about that interview. I was scared that someone was going to figure it out and would know that I wasn’t 16 yet. That was really a neat race and I had a blast that whole night. That first win is a hard one to get no matter what level you’re running in.”
Edwards Sr. recalls former Godfrey Speedway Director of Competition Mack Young having him sign a release immediately after the interview. Young could sympathize with Edwards Sr.; having allowed his own son, Mike Young to race before age 16. Ultimately the close call at Godfrey gave Edwards Sr. the idea to get his son a fake ID only to be used for racing.
“I can’t blame Mr. Edwards one bit; I let my own son race at 15,” Young said. “Mike (Young) had worked so hard and really put in the time and learned about the car. He worked on the stock car all the time and after he built the engine, I decided to let him race. Mike recalls that he was just 15 and the mid-season championship race was the first time I let him race. If Mr. Edwards was willing to sign the consent, I wouldn’t have stopped Carl (Jr.) from racing.”
Learning how to work on cars next to his father is what drew Edwards Jr. to stock car racing and for him where the love of the sport was born.
“For me it’s the idea that you work on your car, it’s the technical aspect of it in the beginning,” Edwards Jr. said. “There is so much to understand with the car. After working on it all week, you drag it to the race track with your friends and family. You feel the nerves when you strap in, but once you put those earplugs in, you go out and race as hard as you can.”
“I loved not only managing my competition, but the car as well,” Edwards Jr. continued. “You have that feeling of being in control of it. It’s really fun and it draws you in. I wouldn’t trade one step I took on my way to NASCAR. I have those memories with my dad. I have no regrets.”
Edwards Jr.’s big break came in 2002, when he competed in seven NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events for MB Motorsports based out of Foristell, Mo. Of his first seven races, Edwards Jr. posted an eighth-place finish at Kansas Speedway and captured the attention of Jack Roush of Roush Racing.
Driving the No. 99 Ford, Edwards Jr. ran his first full season Nextel Cup and Busch series in 2005, earning rookie of the year in the Busch Series. During his time with Roush-Fenway racing, Edwards earned the 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Rookie of the Year, 2007 NASCAR Busch Series Most Popular Driver and the 2007 NASCAR Busch Series Championship.
On Aug. 19, 2015, Edwards Jr. answered rumors when he confirmed he was moving over to drive the No. 19 Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing as a fourth team. Joining Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, all four JGR teams qualified for the 2015 NASCAR playoff season, known as the Chase. Edwards Jr.’s teammate, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M Toyota, earned his first Sprint Cup Championship following his win at Homestead-Miami.
“Working with JGR, we’re in a rare position where all of our cars are fast and everyone works together,” Edwards Jr. said. “We have great engines, great cars, the fastest pit crew on pit road and my crew chief is amazing. All that combined has really upped my confidence. They’re making my job in the car a lot easier. We’re racing up front almost every week. I didn’t always have that.”
Known for his signature back-flip following a victory, Edwards Jr. is already locked into the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship with back-to-back wins at Bristol and Richmond. Edwards has tasted the thrill of winning a Sprint Cup Championship twice, falling short and earning second place to Jimmie Johnson in 2008 and Tony Stewart in 2011.
“Winning a championship is the ultimate goal, of course,” Edwards Jr, said. “I want to be the champion and we’ve been so close. For me personally, I think it would be very special. I think it’s the ones we’ve lost that will make winning a championship even better. I feel confident that we can make it happen.”
Edwards resides in his hometown of Columbia, Mo., with his wife, Katherine “Kate” Downey, and their two children, Michael and Anne.
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