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01/08 2018

Edwards headlines Ozarks Area Racers Hall of Fame class by Lyndal Scranton

 

When Carl Edwards is inducted into the Ozarks Area Racers Foundation Hall of Fame on Saturday at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds E-Plex, it will stir nostalgia for the Missouri native.

Before he was doing back flips after winning NASCAR races, Edwards was doing them at Lebanon I-44 Speedway after winning in scaled-down stock cars.

“I had some of the most fun races in my career in those Baby Grands down there,” Edwards said in an interview prior to Christmas. “I also had one of my most humbling moments in racing, in a Modified there.”

This was in the early 2000s when Edwards was still a relatively unknown short-track racer from mid-Missouri, desperately trying to get his foot in the big-time door of NASCAR. He was back at Lebanon a few weeks after pestering NASCAR Truck Series owner Mike Mittler – a fellow inductee into the Ozarks Area Racers Foundation Hall of Fame – during a race weekend at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis.

The Carl

 

Carl Edwards does a backflip from his car after winning the NASCAR Busch Aaron’s 312 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., Saturday, March 19, 2005. (Photo: AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, Johnny Crawford)

“He quit taking my phone calls after a while, which I’m sure saved him a lot of time,” Edwards said with a laugh. “But we were at Gateway and (Mittler) had this old guy spotting for him. The guy’s up on the spotter’s stand smoking a cigarette and not paying attention to the race. I was up there trying to learn something and I said, ‘Sir, you think you ought to watch the race? There’s stuff going on.’ He said like, ‘Aw, hell, I can drive faster than that.’ ”

“Fast forward about a month later. I ran about 15th in a Modified race at Lebanon. The guy who was out there getting the trophy on the front straightaway? That same old guy who was spotting at Gateway gets out of the car. That’s Dale Roper. He’s the man. That was humbling.”

It also is a great memory for Edwards of his roots in local racing. He drove both on pavement and dirt at I-44 Speedway in several divisions, including some races after he launched a 13-season NASCAR Cup Series career – ironically after driving for Mittler in the NASCAR Truck Series.

“That was a crazy time for me, racing 15-20 different cars a year,” Edwards said. “It was so different for me. The first races I ran (at I-44) I wasn’t running NASCAR and the last races I ran there, I was. There was kind of an overlap and it was a crazy time. I really don’t know how to describe it. But I do have some great memories of racing there against some great people.”

Edwards has been to the Ozarks Area Racers Reunion several times and counts Fair Grove’s Roper and many other Hall of Famers as friends. He said there’s no doubt what the Ozarks area and its racing tradition mean to him.

“That area, to me, has so many amazing people,” Edwards said. “I’m reminded every time I go there how good the people are and how many great racers there are down there. It’s amazing to me that they’re going to induct me. I never imagined that.”

Edwards said he’s content with his life since he shocked the racing world one year ago by walking away from his ride with Joe Gibbs Racing, shortly after nearly winning a NASCAR Cup Series championship. He lives in the Columbia, Missouri area with wife Kate and their two children.

Many people believe Edwards – who won 72 races in NASCAR’s top three divisions – will return to racing’s big leagues at some point. But he doesn’t sound like a guy who’s coming back.

“That was a pretty crazy pace there for about 15 years,” he said. “I’m an all-or-nothing person, sometimes to my detriment. It’s taken me about a year to actually wind down. I’m just now becoming the friend and the person I should be to a lot of people that I basically didn’t spend a lot of time with for a long time. It’s an amazing opportunity and I’ve really been enjoying it.”