The Frontstretch: Carl Edwards to compete for the ultimate Father's Day gift -- back-to-back NEXTEL Cup victories by Nikki Krone -- Friday June 17, 2005

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(Editors Note: This article was originally published on June 18, 2004, when Carl Edwards was competing for the Craftsman Truck Series Championship. A lot has changed in the last year, and this article has been edited to reflect that.)

When the NEXTEL Cup Series hits Michigan International Speedway this weekend, Carl Edwards will be looking for his second straight win after pulling off the victory at Pocono last weekend. He will also be racing in the Busch Series at Kentucky Motor Speedway on Saturday, looking to reclaim the top spot in the points that he lost when he was unable to compete in last weekend’s event, which was rained out and moved to Sunday.

While his two Cup Series and two Busch Series victories, along with his “aw-shucks” personality, will have many fans cheering him on this weekend, no one will be cheering louder than one man back in Columbia, Missouri. That man is Carl Edwards Sr.

Carl Edwards Sr. has always been one of Carl Edwards Jr.’s biggest fans, so you can imagine how excited he was when his son got his first NEXTEL Cup win earlier this year at Atlanta. Watching from the shop in Carl’s hometown of Columbia, Missouri, he got a kick out of watching his oldest son pass Jimmie Johnson on the very last lap to collect his first ever NEXTEL Cup trophy.

“I’ve seen him do [that kind of pass] at a dozen different race tracks and I was just as happy as he was to find out it worked on a mile-and-a-half track, too,” said Carl Edwards Sr. “I’ve seen him do it at Moberly (Missouri) and several other places. To run around the outside is a tough thing to do.”

While his second series victory last weekend at Pocono wasn’t quite as dramatic, as far as last lap heroics, it still made Carl Edwards Sr. very proud.

“It’s real gratifying and real exciting,” he said. “It can’t stand up to the first win and winning in such a spectacular fashion, but it was more tension, like, ‘Can he hold on or is the yellow going to screw him up?” as opposed to, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s going for it!’ So it was a different kind of excitement. But you have to be able to win them that way, too.”

Carl Edwards Sr. is not new to auto racing. Growing up in Missouri, he spent a lot of time watching his uncle Bill Schrader race and then later following his cousin, NEXTEL Cup veteran Ken Schrader, around the local racing circuit. A couple of years later, Carl Edwards Sr. got into the act himself and began building and racing Volkswagen race cars. Starting in 1976, Edwards raced modifieds and midgets locally in Missouri and Illinois, then began racing in several different states throughout the Midwest. He also raced midgets in USAC for awhile in the early 1980s.

He raced on and off until approximately 2002, when he decided to take a couple of years off. Recently, he has made his return to the track competing in three dirt modified races in Missouri so far this season, with his best finish being a sixth.

Carl Edwards Sr. passed on his love of auto racing to his son from an early age. Carl Edwards Jr. would travel with his mom to many of his dad’s races when he was very young, watching from the grandstands and sometimes from the pits. He stopped going for awhile as he was growing up, but returned to the track with his father when he was about 12 years old. He was even allowed to help with little things, which only increased his love of racing.

It wasn’t long before he expressed his racing desires to his dad. His first experience in competition was hot lapping his dad’s car at Maccomb, Illinois at the age of 14. Although it wasn’t necessarily “legal”, track officials would often look the other way. From there they purchased an old car, fixed it up and started running it weekly at a couple different tracks in Missouri and Illinois.

It didn’t take long for Carl Edwards Sr. to realize that not only did his son want to race, but he had natural talent behind the wheel. He began building race cars for both he and his son in his Volkswagen shop, but the younger Edwards was expected to more than just drive the cars.

“When he decided he wanted to [race] I kind of made him work for it,” said Carl Edwards Sr. “He had to come over and work on both cars as much as he was able, and he learned quite a bit as far as getting the cars ready to go racing and all that stuff. He’d come over and charge batteries, air up tires, change oil and help do engine tuning and whatever had to be done. He’d ice down the cooler and get everything ready to go, because that was part of the deal. But he really liked racing so he worked pretty hard to do it.”

At the time, Carl Edwards Jr. was a little frustrated at having to do most of the work on both cars, but he now admits that it was a great learning experience that only made him a better race car driver.

“I think he liked having me race with him because I did all the maintenance on both cars when we raced,” said Carl Edwards Jr. “I wanted to race so bad that it didn’t really matter. It was kind of a different situation then I envisioned when we started racing together. I figured he’d be right there showing me how do everything and helping me out. As it turned out, it actually was better for me that I did virtually all the work on my own as soon as I could. When I first started, he obviously was doing a lot more work but as soon as I could do something on my own he wouldn’t help me on it anymore. It was frustrating at first, but I could always go to him and he would explain things to me. In the end, I’m really grateful that I did so much without any help.”

While it may have been a bit frustrating at times, he says that racing was the part of their relationship where things seemed to click.

“We butted heads in just about every other aspect of life and the neat thing about racing was we got along perfectly,” said Carl Edwards Jr.

“We had great communication. It was unbelievable how well we got a long at the race track.”

Success came fairly quickly for the younger Edwards. In fact, he earned his first victory while competing in his father’s car before he was actually old enough to participate in the events. Track rules stated that you must be 18 years of age to compete on the track and Carl Edwards Jr. was only 15, but that didn’t stop him from competing-and winning.

“I’d kind of hang out in the truck until right before hot laps started,” he said, “and then [my dad would] sign in as the driver and we’d be in the back of the pit area. Nobody would really notice and I’d just kind of slip in the car and go race.”

After just three races he crossed the finish line for his first ever victory, and just like all race winners, he had to make the mandatory stop on the frontstretch for the post race interview. He got out of the car and did his interview with the track announcer, and while nobody said anything to him, he was a bit shaken up when he returned to the pits.

“He was really cool when he did the interview and everything,” said Carl Edwards Sr. “but when we got back over to the pits he was like, ‘Dad, I thought they were going to arrest me,’ because he wasn’t me, and he was 15 and looked 12. But they were real nice to him and after that he didn’t sneak in anymore. Everybody kind of looked the other way.”

“It was petrifying,” said Carl Edwards Jr. “I thought for sure I was going to get thrown out of the place.”

From there, father and son began traveling together and competing against each other. Carl Edwards Jr. admits that in the beginning, his father could embarrass him pretty easily on the track. But after gaining some experience, he definitely learned how to take care of himself.

At the age of 16, Carl Edwards Jr. headed to Charlotte, North Carolina to spend the summer with cousin Schrader to help out at his race shop. When he returned to Missouri at the end of the summer, he was more determined to be a racer then ever before. He took Schrader’s advice and went out and purchased an IMCA Modified, then went on to earn two track championships at Capital Speedway in Holt Summit, Missouri in 1999 and 2000. From there he competed in the Baby Grand Division and the USAC Silver Crown Series in 2001.

While Carl Edwards Sr. says his son was always “hell on wheels”, he admits that watching his son compete on the fast tracks like he did in USAC was sometimes a little frightening.

“When we bought that Silver Crown car, the first race in that was at Phoenix,” he said. “The first time they dropped the green for hot laps, that was worrisome. He went flying by. When he went by he was foot on the floor and that thing had to be running 175 mph and it was just, that’s too fast. That was what I was thinking – my little boy shouldn’t be driving that fast. That’s crazy, but he liked it. It was awesome.”

After gaining some experience on pavement in USAC, Missouri truck owner Mike Mittler asked him to drive his truck in the Memphis Craftsman Truck Series race in 2002. That season, he ended up competing in seven races for Mittler and MB Motorsports, with his best finish of eighth coming at the Kansas Speedway. He had been preparing to run approximately five more races with the team in 2003, but just weeks before the season opener at Daytona, he received a call that has changed his life.

That call was from Roush Racing asking if he’d be interested in driving the No. 99 Ford F-150 for them in the Craftsman Truck Series. Carl Edwards Jr. jumped at the opportunity to drive for one of NASCAR’s premiere teams, and perhaps no one was more excited for him than his father.

“I was almost doing backflips,” said Carl Edwards Sr., “but I’m too old.”
He was nothing less than impressive in his first season with the team. In 25 races in 2003, Edwards earned one pole, 15 top 10s, 13 top fives and three victories. His success earned him the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title and an eighth place finish in the final point standings.

So far this season, he was one pole, one win, five top 10s and two top fives in just seven races, and he is currently second in the point standings, after leading earlier this season.

While his statistics may be surprising to many, his dad always knew he had it in him.
“He’s won in everything that he’s run and I really have the utmost faith in his ability and determination,” said Edwards Sr.

For the Edwards family, a lot has changed in a very short time. Although Carl Edwards Jr. now lives in Charlotte, and they may not talk to each other or see each other as often as they use to, they are still very close.

“We talk a lot,” said Carl Edwards Jr. “He lives in Missouri and I live in North Carolina, so it’s not like I can just walk out of the garage and go into the house and ask him for advice all the time. But when I have real tough questions and stuff, he’s still the smartest racer I know, so I give him a call.”

While he may have his experienced Roush Racing teammates to turn to, Edwards still depends on his dad’s advice.

“It’s neat to talk to him because I know that he’s giving me a true honest opinion that’s in my best interest,” said Edwards Jr. “so he’s someone I can always talk to for that.”

While he would love to be there in person this weekend, Carl Edwards Sr. will not be able to be at the track to watch his oldest son compete in either of these races. Instead, he will be helping his youngest son, Kenny, compete at Moberly, Missouri in the Hornet Division. This is Kenny’s first year in racing, and he has already won a feature along with several heat races. Carl Edwards Sr. is already very impressed by what he sees in his young son.

He’s also been very impressed by he’s seen in his older son, both as a racer and as a person. He is obviously proud of his son, and rightfully so. Carl Edwards Jr. is always a class act; humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

“I’m really happy that he’s doing so well and I was pretty sure he would,” said Carl Edwards Sr. “You put him on a first class team with good stuff and I had a lot of confidence in him. I’m also really glad it’s not going to his head and that people like him.”

By listening to Carl Edwards Jr., that’s obviously something he learned from his father.

“When we were at the race track, I’ve kind of used him as the high water mark of all the other folks I’ve gone racing with,” said Carl Edwards Jr. “because he’s so thoughtful and he doesn’t let his emotions get in the way of his racing.”

“On the whole, I think he learned whatever lessons I could teach him,” said Carl Edwards Sr., “then he went on to learn a whole bunch more, and we’re pretty proud of him.”

Their mutual respect, admiration and love for each other is obvious when you listen to them talk about the good old days and what is still to come. This weekend, Carl Edwards Jr. has the chance to give his dad one of the best Father’s Day gifts, if he can win at Kentucky Motor Speedway or Michigan International Speedway, or both. But if he doesn’t, you can bet that just watching his son drive his heart out and living his dream will leave this dad beaming with pride the entire weekend.

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