Deeston Brown receiving the victory lane treatment at Tri-County Speedway

“It’s impossible to win the race unless you venture to run, impossible to win the victory unless you dare to battle.”

Richard M. Devos

I’ve been putting off writing this article for some time even though I know it needed to be written. But recently I remembered a quote that has finally brought me to it. It’s a quote by Ram Dass that states, “We are all just walking each other home.” That my friend is a profound statement. There’s more to it than you may see on the surface as that walk is more in depth than the quote implies as anyone living life can tell you. And so being, that quote brought me to another one that states, “It’s impossible to win the race unless you venture to run, impossible to win the victory unless you dare to do battle.” That’s just it isn’t it. The battle. There, Richard M. Doss hits the nail on the head as it’s indeed the battle that defines us. In racing, how you win a race defines you as a driver just as in life, how you handle your struggles defines who you are. And that’s a connection some of us know more than others. Let me explain. We have written about the team and the driver and why they do what they do, but now we have to cover what brings the fans to it in a way that makes this sport exceedingly special. I’ve heard from some inside the sport itself that say that people come to the ‘peanut gallery’ to see the crash. But while that may be true for a small number of spectators, for most it goes much deeper. And for others it goes to the very core of life itself. That’s where the battle lies.

Last year, Jody Chandler of Leapfrog Landscaping brought a young man to Tri-County Speedway in the midst of his own battle. One that was life threatening to say the least, and life effecting to say the most. Knowing his situation, he had one wish, and Jody Chandler was bound and determined to fulfill it. And before young Deeston Brown had surgery to remove the cancer from his brain, Jody Chandler stepped up to do just that. You can see that Deeston was all smiles as he received the victory lane treatment in the cover photo to this article, as he was during his entire visit to Tri-County Speedway, getting to take a ride in the Chandler owned Leapfrog Landscaping sponsored # 07 Street Stock, and spending a night hanging out with his favorite local short track drivers and teams. It was as important to Jody Chandler as it was for Deeston however, as when I caught up with Mr. Chandler that day he was feverishly wiping down and polishing the car Deeston got to take a ride around the track in, but with a look of concern I asked him what he was up to. He explained it a little to me but he was more concerned about the look of the car. I was a bit confused at first but then it all started to make sense. In Jody’s mind, the car could never be what he wanted it to be for Deeston because absolute perfection is not what it was ever going to be. But it was perfect for Deeston and his smiles proved that fact. To understand Jody Chandler’s state of mind however, you have to hear in his own words why it was important for him to do this in the first place.

“I just enjoy the sport very much. In all honesty, Shad Higgins contacted me and told me of the situation and asked if I would be interested in helping out by bringing my wife’s race car down. He explained to me that the young man had cancer and all he wanted was to have a pizza party at the racetrack and ride in a race car. I think that it is important to bring someone with health issues to the racetrack because that person is probably down and out and if that can put a smile on their face or keep their mind off of negative things for any amount of time then let’s do it! It was my absolute honor to be able to help in any way possible.”

Jody Chandler

So you can see why it was important for Jody Chandler to fulfill what was asked of him from Tri-County Speedway co-owner Shad Higgins, making it a very special occasion. But this type of action is not unique to stock car racing. From the grassroots to the premier series in the sport, there are a number of foundations that reach out to those who need assistance, whether mental or physical. But the most important work comes to helping the kids that are in life battles that take so much away from their childhoods. Besides these actions just being a wonderful distraction to what these kids go through, there’s a much deeper connection, and that’s the battle itself. Me and my son Joshua understand that all so well, and we can tell you, it is the battle itself that lies at the core of it. You see, me and Josh owe more to the sport of short track racing than you know. It’s all in how we came to know the sport so well, and on a different level than most will ever understand. But that understanding started even before I brought Joshua to the racetrack. We were locked in a battle of our own. Not with each other, but with a health issue that no one else could help us with. That’s why I put this article off for so long. It’s an emotional topic that at first we weren’t sure we should ever mention. But over the last year or so, it’s become apparent to us for many reasons that we needed to do it, if not just for the sport itself, as we feel it’s the most underrated sport on the planet. And for reasons that we feel too many haven’t understood.

It began when he was just eight months old. My wife went to work very early in the morning and so we put little Joshua in her spot on the bed as I tend to go into a deep sleep from time to time and it just seemed the smart thing to do so I’d know when he awakened. But this morning, something woke me up. Call it fate or whatever you will as I rarely awakened that early after falling back asleep, but I woke up knowing something wasn’t right. And when I turned over to check on my son he was blue and he wasn’t breathing. I did the best I could to get him breathing but he wasn’t responding well, and so I knew I couldn’t wait for an ambulance and so I took him to the car and did the best race car driver run I’ve ever made in a mad dash to the hospital emergency room. Fortunately for us an immediate inhaler got him breathing right again, but it was the start of our battle that took years to finally resolve. We were told all kind of things it could be, but none of the answers seemed right to me and my wife, and it took another occurrence like that to confirm it to us. The doctors had no real clue but they tried their best to convince us that they did, and there was nothing to worry about. But we knew better. Whatever it was that made our son quit breathing was a worry, and we wouldn’t stop until we figured it out. It was a dangerous situation for us, and despite what they said, we knew it to be life threatening. But, that said, don’t blame the doctors, as it took years for the reasons to become clear. So there we were, in the midst of a battle we weren’t sure we could win, but we would do whatever it took to beat it.

When I say years, it wasn’t until Joshua was 12 that they found the cause of it all. In 2016, we finally convinced the doctors that we wouldn’t be satisfied with nothing short of the MRIs that he needed. We were convinced they’d find the answers there. After he started getting older, his breathing issues turned into bouts of dizziness and nausea that we knew were still more than the vertigo and immunity issues they were searching through, as that nausea became proceeded by episodes where he would almost lose consciousness, and was unable to function. The MRIs did turn out to give us the answer. He was having seizures, and once they saw the severity of them, the doctors finally understood what we were going through, and how immediate they needed to act. Joshua had a malformation on his brain, and he needed brain surgery to correct it. It was all a truly horrifying experience with no guarantees given. In the midst of all of it, from the very beginning, there was one form of medicine that we know helped us get through it. And that was our trips to the racetrack, and especially Bowman Gray Stadium. It’s a place where battles ensue every Saturday night during the racing season, and on those Saturdays, we could forget our worries, lost in the excitement that we saw on the track. But to Joshua, it were those battles he could fully understand and relate to.

Joshua Weatherman at Bowman Gray Stadium

When a driver straps in, he doesn’t quite know the struggles he’ll encounter but he’s ready to face it. And he will do so with the understanding of the danger that comes with those struggles. He is ready for the battle. The battle with his machine, against his competitors, and even himself. But when he fully understands what all it will entail, that’s when he finds his peace and realizes that it is the way he handles the diversity, the way he does battle, that builds his character as a racing driver. That character is where a good number of racing fans connect, but for the true racing fan, that connection starts with also coming to understand the true battles a racer faces. For it’s those battles that define the core of the sport itself. An extreme challenge to conquer that takes a certain kind of individual to master. And it’s in the midst of those battles that one starts to understand that racing is more than just a sport. It’s life. And for Joshua and me, we understand that. It took me this long to write this article because we knew that in today’s world, for some that just like to look on the surface, it may appear we are just trying to put the spotlight on ourselves. But we know where the spotlight truly deserves to go. Also, Joshua wasn’t sure he wanted anyone to know about our own battle. In the scope of the world, we are just one small family, and we weren’t even sure his story mattered outside of our own little bubble. But as the past couple of years have went by for Short Track Report as we’ve covered the sport in the region, and as we also start to look beyond and into the future, we now fully understand why this story is so important to tell. And so if our story isn’t enough to get you to understand how and why the sport of short track stock car racing is so significant to so many, then maybe another story of true fate will.

Tony Edward, originally from The Woodlands, Texas, began his stint as a race car driver on road courses in SCCA Rally Racing, and eventually turning to asphalt ovals in ASA Speedtrucks. Racing had become an important part of his life. So when he and his wife moved to North Carolina from Arizona where they’d moved to prior and they settled in, he was eager to pick up where they’d left off and get back into racing. But when his wife Christina got sick with leukemia, he had to put it all on hold. That is when Tony and his family started to understand how significant the battle could be as his significant other was in a fight for her very life. And though racing was put on the back burner, it was never far from the families mind. And as Christina started to beat the odds 2 years into her fight, she called Tony and his son Rusty in for a conversation. She told them that it was time to go back racing. It was a surprise to Tony and his son as truly they had become so immersed in Christina’s fight that they hadn’t really thought about racing for the last couple of years. But she didn’t have to twist their arms. Even though it was the last thing they expected the conversation to be about, they were ready. And so Tony and Rusty went to work figuring out what they wanted to race and to put things together to make it happen. Their plan became to do what they knew and they purchased a Mazda RX-7 to go road racing again in SCCA.

Everything in Tony’s world was great. His wife was better and he was about ready to chase his dreams again in auto racing. He was on top of the world…for a moment. And then one day in May, in 2020, Tony’s whole world changed. It was shaping up to be another great day, and as Tony was getting ready to come off his shift as a paramedic, his wife called, and as Tony Edward put it, they had a beautiful conversation and made plans to spend the evening together. It was the last time they talked. When Tony and his son Rusty got home, Tony went in to see his wife, and he found her draped across their bed in the bedroom. He yelled for Rusty to call 911 as he tried to process the situation. He became two men, one the loving husband who was stunned by what he saw, and the other the rescue personnel who had to react to save a life. He immediately pulled her off the ground and started CPR but it was too late. He soon came to realize that it wasn’t her previous illness that had taken her. It was an intentional act of murder from her estranged ex. A truly horrific incident that was even hard for me to write here.

As time passed, Tony and Rusty Edward knew there was only one thing they could do to start the healing process, and that was to do what Christina had told them to, and that was to go racing. And that’s how we came to this story. We met Tony and Rusty at Orange County Speedway and had a conversation on how important short track racing was to us. And we came to know through the friendship that grew from that how important it was to Tony and Rusty as well. And as we struggled with how and when to share our stories, fate finally brought me to it. First watching Jody Chandler wiping down his Street Stock and why it would never be as presentable to him as he would like. But then finally I knew it was time through the final moments of one Emma Edwards. Her story became known to many in the racing world through one Mr. Chris Carter, largely on his podcast, Talk’n Circles With Chris Carter. And once the word got out about her plight, the short track racing family came together in great numbers to do what they could do for her and her family. Emma suffered from an advanced form of leukemia called acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Emma fought her disease as hard as she was able, and with a grace that’s hard for even me and many others to understand. It never broke her spiritually. But as hard as she fought, Emma was lost on July 11, 2023. Due to her wishes she was able to pass with her family at their home, and as fate would have it, it was Tony Edward that took her there. As part of the racing family, he knew it was only appropriate that it would be him to take her home.

Life as in racing is full of battles. And one thing I’ve learned is that no matter how hard you fight those battles, they may not end in the victory you had imagined. That’s not truly what it’s all about anyway. It’s how you fight those battles that matter the most. That’s what will define you. The truth of it all is that the art of winning is in how you cross the line.

(There are many charities and organizations that you can help by monetary donations and by donating your time. One of those soon as they get things in place is The Emma’s Army Foundation. Keep your eyes open for that and the many other organizations that benefit children and those in extreme need. Your help will be greatly appreciated. That said, we would like to take the time to personally thank the short track racing community, a community we consider family, for their help in our plight without them even knowing. The inspiration, dedication, and skill you show in doing what it takes to compete means more to some than you probably would ever understand. We could never thank you enough.)

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