COLUMBIA — Carl Edwards Sr. stands behind the announcer’s booth of the Boone County Fairgrounds, where he has been watching as dented, four-cylinder race cars speckled with mud make their way around the short, circular track. The father of NASCAR racer Carl Edwards can recall a time he had to bend the rules to find ways for his son to race this same class of cars. When Edwards Jr. started racing, drivers were supposed to be 16 years old.
“You had to have a drivers license, so we would sneak him in the back of the truck. When it got dark we would put a helmet on him and put him in the race car. They all thought it was me,” said Edwards Sr., who still lives in Columbia where Carl Edwards Jr. grew up.
It wasn’t long before Edwards Jr. began to draw attention. Edwards Sr. remembers a close call after a race in Godfrey, Illinois.
“After about his third or fourth race, he won. So, they stopped him on the front straightaway to do an interview. It wasn’t me, it was him. He was all nerved up and everything.”
Edwards Jr. managed to calm his nerves enough to conduct the interview.
"He pulled it off," Edwards Sr. said. "Nobody said a thing. He came back, and I said, 'you did fine kid.'"
With his son driving into the spotlight more often, the father had to come up with another plan.
“A friend of mine had a son who was in a fraternity. We went and got my kid a fake drivers license. Not so he could drive, or drink, but so he could get in a doggone racetrack. It (the license) said he was 16,” Edwards Sr. said.
The plan worked, and his son continued to race four-cylinder cars throughout Missouri and other states.
“It was like 15 different tracks throughout Missouri, Illinois and Kansas. We went around a lot,” Edwards Sr. said.
Young drivers today don’t have to sneak onto the track, with associations often allowing drivers younger than 16 to race.
"If you have a youngster who wants to race, you can find a place for them at any age," Edwards Sr. said.
Drivers ages 16 and younger made up a quarter of the field in the second annual Door Banger Nationals on Thursday. The class is popular among young drivers who are making their way into racing.
For Edwards Sr., his son is a prime example of how an early start can result in success.
“Kids learn faster than adults,” Edwards Sr. said. “I didn’t start racing until I was 26. Heck, by the time my kid was 26 he was already down there racing Daytona and everything because we started him a lot earlier.”
Lannie Wineland, from Syracuse, Mo., agrees. His stepson, 14-year old Gage Nicholson raced his yellow and orange No. 5 car on Thursday. Gage started racing when he was only 13. He plans to move up to racing eight-cylinder cars next year.
Dina Fischer, from Jefferson City, has four sons. Her youngest, Dylan is only 11-years old. Fischer said her family has already purchased her youngest son's first race car for his debut next year.
“You’ve got to crawl before you can walk,” Lannie Wineland said. “Some of these guys are in their 20’s racing NASCAR.”
Edwards Sr. said there might even be NASCAR potential in some of the young drivers racing on Thursday.
“The guys that are doing it well, that look good and look smooth out there, got some real talent," Edwards Sr. said. "There’s no telling where they could go."