Columbia native showing he has all the right moves

Thursday, September 4, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:35 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Some drivers celebrate victories with rubber-burning doughnuts, spraying champagne or fence climbing.

Carl Edwards, the latest NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series sensation, scrambles out of his truck after taking the checkered flag and does a backflip.

Sprint car driver Tyler Walker inspired Edwards’ crowd-pleasing move.

“I saw him do it on TV and it just looked awesome, so I started doing that, probably in 1999,” Edwards said.

It took some time — and some pain — to perfect it. After workouts at the University of Missouri gym, Edwards and a friend would go upstairs to a padded room and work on the move.

“I usually did it three times a week before the (school) year started,” he said.

Once he got the hang of doing the backflip, all Edwards had to do was start winning.

It wasn’t a foreign concept to Edwards, a Columbia native who drives for Roush Racing.

Edwards followed in the footsteps of his father, Mike Edwards, a local short-track star for four decades.

Carl started out driving four-cylinder minisprints when he was 13. Over the next 10 years, he ran hundreds of races all over the country, accumulating two track championships and 56 feature wins while racing on pavement and dirt.

Finally, he knew it was time to take a big — and frightening — step.

“We sold the dirt modified car I had been driving for three years. We sold everything we had and my parents took money out of the bank they had saved up and we bought a used USAC Silver Crown car,” Edwards said. “I raced that three times and we ran out of money and I couldn’t afford it any more.”

He began scrambling for rides while working construction and going to school part-time.

That’s when Edwards heard that Jamie McMurray, a current Winston Cup rookie, had left his ride with Mittler Brothers Racing in St. Louis. Edwards quickly

drove the 80 miles to the race shop and told Mittler he wanted to drive his truck.

“I expected him to laugh at me, but it turned out he became a really good friend,” Edwards said.

Edwards worked in the team shop and went to races as a crew member, helping field trucks for Tony Roper and Larry Gunselman until Gunselman left at the end of the 2001 season.

“After that, I think Mike just decided, ‘Well, let’s see what the kid can do,”‘ Edwards said.

Edwards drove seven races last season for Mittler, coming up with his first top-10 finish and attracting the interest of Roush Racing team manager Max Jones.

When phenom Kyle Busch, 18, walked away from a Roush ride to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, it opened the door for Edwards, who finds it hard to believe his good fortune.

“I’m having so much fun, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I sit there and look at the calendar in my office and, it’s like, I can’t believe I’m getting to race at all these tracks. On one hand, it’s really stressful because I want to do real well. On the other hand, it’s just so much fun I can’t even describe it.”

The first part of the season wasn’t much fun, though. He crashed hard in the opening race in Daytona and blew a motor in Darlington.

“Then, we just had a series of bad events culminating in Dover,” Edwards said. “I destroyed two trucks there — one in practice and one in the race. That was really the low point in my career so far.”

That’s when things turned around. In the 10 races since Dover, Edwards has eight top-five finishes, including three wins. He has moved up to ninth in season points heading into tonight’s race at Richmond.

“I think some of what we learned at Dover has helped me as a driver, learning patience and stuff,” Edwards said. “We just started running really well.”

Team owner Jack Roush has big plans for Edwards: a truck championship and a Busch Series title before moving him up to the top series.

He said Edwards is a possible replacement for Mark Martin, 44, the only driver who has been with Roush since he came to NASCAR in 1988.

“That No. 6 car is the cornerstone of our program and Mark is probably in a three-to-five-year window (before retirement),” Roush said. “That could be the place Carl lands.”

Edwards said his immediate goal is to finish the season well and win a couple more races.

“Whatever happens, I just love driving for Jack Roush,” Edwards said. “He’s just a true racer. I can tell he wants to win as bad as I do and it’s really neat to be involved with a guy like that.”

Good enough to do backflips over.

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