We explores the influence that racing fathers have on their offspring
by Bobby Bennett, Jr.
PUBLISHER'S MEMORIES - This article was in the early stages of
CompetitionPlus.com when we were determined to step away from the
standard driver features and cover other less traveled avenues. Our goal
was to be thought-provoking while stepping outside of the norm for drag
racing magazines. We featured articles on everything from fighting
dehydration to the hold that superstitions hold on drag racers.
(Originally published in June 2000).
those of us fortunate enough to have grown up with the influence of a
father, we can relate to just how much of a difference they make in our
lives. Studies have proven time and time again just how important their
involvement is. Now, don't take us the wrong way and think that we don't
believe that the mother has a strong influence, because she does. Both
parents are of equal importance in their offspring's decisions in life.
Father's Day is coming up several days after we upload this latest
issue, however, we thought we'd look into just how much of an influence
some of this sport's Dads have on their kids. Over the decades, we have
witnessed toddlers in diapers in the race tracks eventually grow into
"go-fer" crew members and then credible decision makers by the
time they were teens. That was almost always a precursor to the
offspring entering the same arena in which their elder participated.
It's quite simple. In homes where a father figure was present, nine
times out of ten the child often emulates what the dad does. If dad is a
drag racer, it's an almost certainty that his children
"pretend" to be racers. We can all relate to it. As a father
myself, I've watched many times as my son Kelli "make
believes" that he's the editor of a magazine. As his dad, it makes
me plenty proud that I've found an occupation that a child finds worthy
the psychologists in today's studies admit that fathers hold an
important role in the development of their young. Our society has
noticed that the effects of not having that male figure in their life
can have an adverse reaction more times than not. "Economic
Deprivation and Early Childhood Development" of Child Development
65 lists that the Statistical analysis of the behavior and intelligence
of children living in fatherless households revealed "significant
detrimental effects." Growing up in a fatherless household remained
a statistical predictor of behavior problems even after adjusting for
differences in family income. Even the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services agree that fatherless children are at a dramatically
greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse.
because a driver has a child that tags along with him to the races
doesn't necessarily insure that the child will be a driver, or vice
versa. There are prime examples in racing. But, then again, the odds are
greatly in the favor that they will and in most cases, take it to the
look at a few examples. Hands down the most recognized father would have
to be Jeg Coughlin. The former drag racer turned mail order magnate has
the most offspring racing on the professional level of anyone in the
world of drag racing. The plaudits of Jeg, Jr., Troy, Mike and John are
well documented in the sport. Jeg is always present with his sons at the
racetrack, and admits that he's real proud to see what they've
a great feeling," explains Coughlin when he recalls the closeness
that the sport has brought to him and his sons. "I feel it's a
safe, clean and growing sport. I am proud that I was part of the sport
of drag racing in the beginning and I am even more proud to be a part of
the sport now and watch my sons grow within the sport. I often thank
Wally Parks for giving my family such a great tool to grow together as a
family has their own set of requirements before the torch is passed from
one generation to another. It is considered a rite of passage. However,
in the family it was not something that was afforded to his children
just because he raced.
Coughlin driver requirements were simple. Before any of them got behind
the wheel they had to understand sportsmanship and safety 100% before
they ever went down the track. They also had to have the desire and
ability to race.
LaHaie family provides another example of the patriarch influence. Dick
LaHaie raced for many years and a trademark of his involvement was his
daughter Kim, turning the wrenches for her dad. According to LaHaie, she
was a very positive influence in his racing habits. Kim, who now works
with her husband Tim Richards on Whit Bazemore's flopper, and her dad
often exchange tuning tips to stay ahead of the game.
followed her dad's footsteps and he followed hers as well. In the early
part of the last decade, Kim decided to give driving a try and slid
behind the wheel of a Top Fueler owned by Larry Frazier. Dick then
followed her lead and became a crew chief on the Connie Kalitta team.
However, after all these years, the two are on the same side of the
the case of the LaHaies, did Dick ever try to influence Kim's decision
to come into racing.
tried never to really influence her decisions. Her helping me was a
blessing and I'm thankful for the time it afforded us."
recalled the days when she used to go racing with her dad.
worked hard to be the best. I was so eager to learn more about the sport
and doing what I did helped me to achieve that. We were just like any
team that wanted to be the best.
always the trust factor that comes into having a team. Sophomore Funny
Car racer Scotty Cannon admitted that when Oakley gave him the go-ahead
for a second team. Choosing his son to drive the second team car was a
natural because of the trust factor. He knew that he could trust Scott,
Jr., unconditionally in a sport where tuning talent and drivers could be
bought or sold with the right amount of money.
knew Scott wanted to race," explained Cannon, who first brought his
son into racing as a crew member on his Pro Modified team. "He had
raced motorcycles and that kind of stuff and I knew he was real
dedicated to whatever he did regardless if it was racing the motorcycle
or helping me on the car. He didn't much like racing when he was young,
but as he got older, his interest grew. And, I am glad."
admitted that he worked better with Scott, Jr., when he got older.
admitted that he worked better with Scott, Jr., when he got older.
be the first to admit it," confided Cannon, who has two other sons,
Brandon and Destin. "I'm not good with smaller children, I'm better
with them when they get older. Scott and I didn't always do a lot of the
going to movies things and stuff like that, but that didn't mean he
wasn't important in my life. He was very important."
recalled, "When he first started to show an interest in cars, I
didn't know what to think because he wouldn't come to me for help. This
was when I was real heavy hitting in Pro Modified and I would kind of
nudge him every once in a while and let him know that his dad did kind
of do this thing for a living. I guess it was his way of letting me know
that he didn't want to ride on my success. He wanted to do his own thing
and I can respect that."
second generation Cannon laughs, "I'll be the driver of the second
car until I beat him. Seriously, I know my role with the team and right
now, it is to provide more data for his team, which is the primary
points chaser. I have no problem with that. We have to work together as
a team to win. I could think of no better of a teammate for me to have
than my dad. He's both a mentor and a friend and that means everything
to a kid."
viewed in that role means a lot to a Father as well according to Eli
Patrick, whose son Robert campaigns an NHRA Pro Stocker.
our children to grow up and do what we have done for years is about the
most sincere form of flattery that a parent can be blessed with. Even if
they grow to a level way higher than we ever did, there's no resentment.
We always want the best we can get. I cannot begin to describe the
incredible amount of pride I have when I see Robert at the track and the
way he conducts himself."
to levels that their fathers never reached rarely ever makes the parent
feel inferior. To many it's as if they picked their kids up and put them
on top of a hill to continue the journey - even if it is a hill that Dad
could not climb himself. Pro Modified racer Harold Martin knows that
while his father never raced professionally, the seeds were sown as a
sportsman racer through Huston Martin's hard work and dedication to
succeed. This only pushed him to further his education to take racing to
the next level. He knows that the elder Martin lifted him to the
proverbial top of the hill.
"A lot of what I'm able to do today is sharing the opportunity to live out his dream," explained Harold, who is one of the pioneering engineers of the electronic fuel injection system in Pro Modified. "The whole path of what we're doing was a motivation out of what he was doing back when he was racing. He was a great sportsman racer and back then we looked at where we stood in racing and realized that our only way to truly advance in this sport was to find a way to capitalize on getting more education in sports. It motivated me to go to engineering school and to find ways to bring in technology to our team so that we could control our own destiny. To that extent, it's a wonderful feeling that we are now able to do our own entire engine program. We are able to lead with some innovative ways and just to be superior and confident along with so many other race teams. I don't think we are better than anyone else is. But, to have some self-confidence that your capabilities are legitimate makes you feel good. He instilled that in me."
are some parents who once they reach the pinnacle of success decide to
quit and allow an offspring to be their successor. IHRA Pro Outlaw
champion Larry Snyder never second guessed himself when he chose Mick to
be the one driver to climb behind the wheel of his championship-winning
ride. Snyder admitted his decision was made easy by his son's eagerness
to learn the trade.
has been a part of my racing ever since he was shorter than an actual
racing slick and we have the pictures to prove it," explained
Larry, who coached Mick through his formative years in the Top Dragster
ranks. "He makes a lot of the same decisions that I would make.
He's a good kid and I'm just like any proud parent. I've watched him
work hard to get to where he is. He had to earn his way into the seat of
my dragster. I'm pretty much confident that if I didn't have him in
there, someone else would have gotten him."
often come into the drag racing world to join their parents. In a recent
interview with IHRA President Bill Bader, he was asked about how his
family became so involved in what he did with Norwalk Raceway Park. His
children, son Bill, Jr., and daughter Bobbie, are integral parts of the
operation of the immaculate facility along with his wife Debbie.
was very dedicated to what I was doing in drag racing and with
Norwalk," explained Bader, who handed over the operations of the
facility to Bill, Jr. "My family knew that I loved them very much,
but for them to be able to spend more time with me, they knew that they
were going to have to come into my world. I have been blessed to have
them as a part of my life. I am so glad that they found me a worthy
investment of their time that they would join in with what I do. I know
that I am only where I am today because of their support and willingness
to love me unconditionally."
it may seem at times that fathers may be too busy for their young
children when the car needs work or they are going to the races, this is
not the case, for most of the teams that bring the kids along the ride
to and from the track are both educational and bonding. This is where
both father and son, as time goes by, become friends.
all the proud fathers that we talked to, one in particular described
just how much he missed his kids when he traveled. The winningest drag
racer in the history of the sport, John Force, admitted that he was a
lot like Jackie Gleason in saying that he admittedly knew all of his
fans and didn't even know his own family. Force admitted that when the
opportunities present themselves to be with his daughters, he jumps on
them. He admits that he has a lot of regrets that go along with being a
parent that is always on the road.
think I have the same regrets that a lot of people have. You become
famous and you build your name with the fans…I read a book on Jackie
Gleason of the Honeymooners and in the book he said that he knew all of
his own fans and he didn't know his own family. You get guilty of that.
In the business, you have to live the road. One night following the
Gainesville race, I barbecued with my children. I have four daughters
and it was great. In the middle of the day, I took my kid Ashley and my
daughter Adria right out of work and right out of school and told them
that we were going to the movies."
continued, "That's what we did. They asked me why. I looked at them
and told them…just because I want to sit next to you. I wish I had
more time with my children because I sat down the one day and my
daughter Brittany had a strawberry on her lip at one time. It's gone
now. I saw a picture of it and I asked her what that was. I
remembered…she's 13 now, but that was 10 years ago. When she was
born…there were these little birthmarks and now they are gone. I
couldn't believe I forgot that."
there are some children that have always looked to the father figure for
guidance. Some have been left to make the decisions that they think will
make dad most proud. Chris Holbrook, the defending IHRA Pro Stock
champion will find it tough to deal with Fathers Day since his dad Carl
passed away recently. The elder Holbrook was a veteran Super Stock racer
and a flowing well of advice for Chris.
Holbrook family was very much dedicated to the Ford way of life. That is
why, when Chris lost his ride on the Stu Evans team and was given the
opportunity to continue racing, but in an Olds, he walked outside of the
shop and looked upward into the sky and uttered, "Dad, I hope you
Ormsby, Jr., son of the late Top Fuel champion Gary Ormsby, now races in
the Federal Mogul Dragster division. He admitted that he misses his dad.
But, now he knows where his motivation comes from.
know he looks down on me," explained Ormsby, who was once rumored
to be driver of the third Force entry. "I miss him a lot. He was a
great guy and an influence on my life. I know that when I do something
good, he's looking down and helping me along. I know he's proud of me
because I was always proud of him."
© Competitionplus 2004