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August 9, 2012

TRACKSIDE: Terre Haute's C.J. Bryan having memorable stock-car season

TERRE HAUTE — If there’s been anything hotter than the record-breaking temperatures that have hit the Wabash Valley this summer, it would be the blistering pace set by Terre Haute stock-car racer C.J. Bryan.

The Terre Haute competitor has all but dominated the Bomber class racing at Lincoln Park Speedway this summer.

His stellar performances have the veteran dirt-car racer on track to become a double-digit feature winner, which is no easy accomplishment in the rough and tumble ways of weekly Saturday night short-track racing. It’s a brand of racing that can test one’s driving talents on the track and one’s character off it.

With nine feature wins and sizable point lead already intact, it would appear Bryan could pretty much coast to a track title and secure additional checkered flags as the current season rapidly draws to a close.

Certainly no stranger to the sport, Bryan is quick to attest that he doesn’t have all the answers to his phenomenal season. But he does know success can be fleeting in racing.

“I don’t understand why things are going as well as they are. I’ve been around long enough that things can turn bad just as quickly overnight. You can have your runs of good luck and bad luck. You learn to make the most of the moment,” cautioned Bryan.

One thing he does know is that it takes a good race car to run up front and his car owner Marlin Burns sees that his team has the equipment to be contenders each time they unload the trailer.

“This class can be very competitive. There’s a lot of cars capable of winning out there. We’ve been lucky and we’ve been consistent,” Bryan said. “Marlin has made sure we have the equipment. That helps.”

When the team closed out the 2011 campaign with three wins, it set the goal of a championship run this go-around. The crew built a new car over the winter and targeted the mindset of points chasing.

Although it’s not the way he likes to go racing, Bryan thinks it’s the direction the team must take if it is going to reach its ultimate goal.

“You can’t be as aggressive as you would like to be at times. You’ve got to be smart about it. Be there at the end of the night. We want the championship and this is the way it has to be done,” Bryan explained.

With three championships already to his credit over a lengthy and satisfying career, one would think the successful Terre Haute businessman would be seeking higher goals. He’s been around a long time and is cautious enough to know the business side of racing has more than its share of financial pitfalls.

In the perfect world, Bryan says he would be driving one of the bigger, more prestigious late models. But he knows that’s not likely to happen at this stage of his career.

“I’d love to have had the equipment that I have today when I was 17. Maybe things would have been a little different. I don’t know of many forms of racing, unless it might be the World of Outlaws or Lucas Oil Late Models, where a guy can make a living at it.

“None of us [Bomber drivers] do this for a living. We might make enough on the night to pay our way to and from the track. Like the rest of the guys, I’m not giving up my day job,” said Bryan, who owns and operates Specialty Grafix Sign Co. in Terre Haute.

The way in which Bryan has dominated the Bombers has been well scrutinized by the competition. He’s heard his share of rumblings of a big motor or specials shocks. Winning has a tendency to breed skepticism in racing.

“I’ve heard the whispers. I’ve told them [competitors] they are all welcomed to come over to the shop. I’ll even put the car up on the jack stand for them. If I saw some guy winning as much as we have, I’d probably have questions too. That’s just part of racing,” Bryan said with a grin.

“Like a lot the guys that run the bombers or street stocks, I live for Saturday nights. It’s Sunday through Friday that’s tough. It can be a second job that doesn’t pay well.”

Bryan says his success couldn’t come without the support he receives off the race track.

“I’m fortunate to have my wife Dina and her father [Mel Martin] with me. Mel does a great job helping out with the motors. It can be a full-time job if you want to do it right,” said Bryan.

As the confounded and predictably covetous competition will attest, Bryan and his team are indeed doing it right.

Joe Buckles can be reached at jbuckles4@frontier.com.

 

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