Dirt Track Daydreaming
Bailey raced whenever he could find the time and money, joining hundreds of weekend drivers who make up the grass roots of the sport even today.
“Basically whenever I could find enough money to go racing, I’d pack up the truck and head for a track. But there’d be times I just plain couldn’t afford it. Sometimes at the dirt tracks a small Mom-and-Pop tire store would sponsor me for a few races.”
He began racing with a ’69 Chevelle with “most of the parts coming from the junkyard, but she wasn’t too bad.” With some roll bars added to comply with safety regulations, Bailey was racing. After that car came a ’76 Chevy Camaro that raced on dirt tracks. When he moved to asphalt, Bailey stepped up to a Camaro with an IROC setup and a bigger motor.
“That car used to be owned by [former NASCAR standout] Ernie Irvan. I got it and just dropped in a motor, transmission and rear end and went racing,” says Bailey.
There were some consistent times coming home in the top 10 and even some wins on dirt tracks but no victories on asphalt yet for Bailey. And there were crashes and rides into walls, but “nothing real bad,” he says.
Bailey, paying his own way with only the occasional short-term sponsor to ease entry fees and the price of gas, oil, tires and other bills, raced mostly for the thrill of it, realizing before he began in most races that many of his opponents had far better-funded teams. And those teams could afford to run better racecars. In his early days of racing, entry fees, tires and gas could cost him $1,200 a race, and today it’s more than double that even at small tracks. His last few DASH races cost him upward of $3,000.
“It’s tough to have just enough and be racing guys with tens of thousands of dollars of sponsorship money,” Bailey says. “You know what they say: ‘The more money you have, the more horsepower you have.’ And when you need every dollar, you tend to try and make the car last, and that means nursing it sometimes when the competition with the money is driving it as hard as it will go and don’t really care if something gets damaged.”
But the expenses are worth it when Bailey can get off the road and onto a track.
“Racing, or even just working with cars and helping race crews, is a great tension-breaker after being on the road all week,” he says. “I need to do something to make me relax.”
While there are a host of long-haul truckers who would try hard to avoid the roar of engines, the smell of burning fuel and rubber, the grease, the heat of engines and sitting in the seat playing with an accelerator and steering wheel, Bailey loves it.
“I know a lot of truckers head out into the woods or onto lakes to go hunting or fishing, but racing and being around racecars is my sport; it’s my way of unwinding,” he says.
As a professional trucker, Bailey also needs to change his mindset when he gets to the track, especially if he is going to drive.
“In a tractor-trailer you are always driving defensively, looking for an escape route, a safe way, and your speed and where and how you drive is geared to that,” he says. “You’re not only avoiding situations that could be risky, you are constantly trying to make sure they don’t happen. In a racecar you have to push it to the limit, and you do take risks. They’re calculated risks, not foolish ones, but it’s something you would never do in a tractor-trailer. There’s a really big difference when you get behind the wheel. On the track is the only place I get to go fast.”