Carl Edwards sits patiently behind the wheel. His right foot is lightly pressed against the gas pedal. His right hand is carefully cradling the clutch.
He is waiting for the green flag to wave. He is prepared to compete. He is ready to win. Above all else, he is focused.
He is sitting at home in Mooresville, N.C., in front of a computer screen.
Upon first glance, it might appear Edwards, a Columbia native, is only playing a game. Take a closer look, though, and you will notice he is doing something that consumes the majority of his time: preparing for his next race.
Although this method of preparation might seem a bit unorthodox, it is all a matter of practicality.
“There is really no proper way to practice for racing so you have to invent things to do,” Edwards said.
Preparation isn’t all fun and games though. Edwards, 24, the 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series rookie of the year, says that he also gets up every morning to lift weights and does a cardio workout in the evening.
If this amount of work sounds daunting, it is necessary to maintain his edge and compete at a high level.
Even Edwards’ mother, Nancy Sterling, has been subject to his intense preparation.
“He actually apologized for acting distant this weekend and said that he was just too busy focusing on the race,” she said.
That race would be the Florida Dodge Dealers 250 in Daytona, which will run today.
With any luck, this year’s version of the race will be better than last year’s for Edwards; he drafted his way to the lead before hitting the wall on lap 77.
“The track is tough mentally because as a racer you always want to go to the front and take the lead when in all actuality it might be better to stay behind and draft,” Edwards said. “You can’t get away from the guy behind you. It is a free-for-all during the last lap as the guy in 10th has just as good a chance to win as the guy in first.”
Edwards plans to let his truck handle most of the work during the race.
“Daytona is a track where success is usually dictated by (truck) performance,” he said. “The driver only comes into play during the decision-making process. It is kind of like driving down the interstate in a Ferrari. You will be able to beat someone in an inferior car because of its superior performance.”
Ferrari or Volkswagen, Edwards understands that his vehicle must be primed and fine-tuned to race. Edwards says that he and his team spent a lot of time in the offseason running his Ford F-150 through practice laps and conducting a wide variety of performance tests.
“Our truck has been running really fast,” he said.
Although Edwards says his primary objective is to win the season points championship, he has others he will try to achieve.
“One of my goals is to not make the same mistakes I made last season. I don’t want to get greedy and ask too much of the vehicle,” Edwards said. “As a driver, patience will be a bigger part of my racing.”
Patience has never been his strong suit, though, when it comes to speeding through the various racing circuits. From his promising beginnings as the 1994 Columbia Soapbox Derby Champion to his most recent NCTS Rookie of the Year honor, Edwards has left his competition in the rearview.
During the past 10 years, he has accumulated two NASCAR sanctioned track championships, three rookie of the year honors and 59 feature wins while racing on dirt and pavement tracks across the country. His success on the track has not been a solitary accomplishment, though.
“Being a successful racer is impossible to do all by yourself, but it’s also impossible if you don’t have the right people around you,” Edwards said.
In his first full season on the NCTS, Edwards won the Kentucky, Indianapolis and Nashville races. He had 13 top-five finishes en route to an eighth-place finish in points and earned $532,030.
Edwards learned the majority of his racing skills from a close source by doing something that doesn’t involve speed: standing around and observing.
“My dad is the smartest racer I have ever met, and I received most of my racing education from watching him,” Edwards said.
His father, Carl Edwards Sr., is no slouch in the racing world, for he accumulated nearly 200 wins in the Midwest from 1976-96. His father realizes that skill can only get Edwards so far.
“It’s rare that someone gets the opportunity to do what he is doing and the ones that do are very good racers, so you can’t give up,” Edwards Sr. said. “You can’t only be a good racer though, you also have to be a little lucky, make the right connections and hope that everything falls into place.”
The chips have fallen into place.
“The biggest key this year is that we have a full-time sponsor, so we’re not racing strictly to win a sponsor every week,” Edwards said.
That sponsor is Superchips, Inc., which is based in Sanford, Fla., and specializes in the “tuning” of computer-controlled vehicles for more power.
“The response that we received was phenomenal from sponsoring Carl’s truck. Just putting your name on the side of a truck doesn’t guarantee promotion, though,” said Rick Rollins, director of sales and marketing for Superchips, Inc.
“A big component is the driver and Carl is not only a great driver, but a great person as well. He wants to do nothing but race and is the ideal situation of a kid living his dream.”
Edwards is a member of the Roush Racing team. The team has the most wins in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series since 1996 with 33.
“I read about this team when I was racing on dirt tracks and thought about how awesome it would be to be a part of the team,” Edwards said. “The truck series seemed like a good steppingstone for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series (the highest level of NASCAR). As much as I want to make it though, I’m completely focused on the here and now.”