On The Track, Daughter Takes Wheel From Her Father

Three Generations Of Race Car Drivers

December 26, 1990|By John Harris III | John Harris III,Staff writer

It's a wonder easygoing Charles "Ed" Sutton of Crownsville hasn't been approached by potential Corvette shoppers.

With a fleet of nearly 20 models of the flashy Chevrolet sports car gracing his premises, the 44-year-old ex-NASCAR driver could easily be mistaken for a car salesman.

In reality, the former 11-year veteran of the county police force owns Capital City Corvette, a repair shop located right beside his Generals Highway home and devoted strictly to the repair and restoration of Corvettes.

After nearly 20 years, what started for Sutton as a hobby has grown into a full-fledged business.

"It started as a little repair business, just something on the side," he said. "But I've been involved with (motor sports) for so long, it's just become a part of me."

Sutton's fascination with motor sports was inherited from his father, Charles Sutton Sr., a veteran racer whose 1937 Ford graced such local tracks as Howard County's Dorsey and Baltimore's Westport during the '50s and early '60s. The elder Sutton died in 1975.

And the automobile bug has bitten not only father and son. Sutton's daughter, Kelly Daff, 19, will join the entry-level stage of auto racing known as mini-stock this summer at Old Dominion speedway in Manassas, Va.

The 1989 Old Mill graduate, married to Rodney Daff and mother to 10-month-old Ashley, will be racing against two other female competitors -- a prospect that has given her added incentive.

"I think it's great that more women are getting involved in auto racing," she said. "From what I know of them, they're both pretty competitive, so it will be pretty exciting to have the chance to race against them.

"I'm very excited about this. It's really a dream come true for me. I realize that I'll have to start from the bottom and work my way to the top.

It may take me awhile, but I'll work very hard.

"I've always liked the thrill and the excitement of speed," she added.

"I guess once you get (racing) in your blood, you can't get it out."

Kelly's participation in a male-dominated sport doesn't seem to bother her father much, especially since she and 21 year-old sister Tracy Hawkins grew up around the sport. But that isn't enough to keep him from being concerned about her safety.

"I know that Kelly knows what she's doing out there, but of course I'll be just a little worried about her," he said, "It can be a dangerous sport."

The father and daughter would love to work together someday. Their road to the NASCAR circuit will begin this summer, provided Kelly can deal with a potential obstacle -- multiple sclerosis.

"I developed it two years ago," she said. "The doctors told me that I was one of the youngest cases they had ever seen."

Kelly seems undaunted. She knows all about staring down adversity.

At 13, the adventuresome teen-ager survived a near-fatal mini-bike accident, resulting in serious head injuries and a nearly severed arm.

Pulling through such an experience has given her a calm outlook.

"So far, it hasn't been holding me back any, although I know it's there," she said of the disease. "All I want to do now is race."

Should she become nearly as skilled as her father, Kelly will be looking forward to a very promising future. Before an accident at the Talladega (Ala.) Raceway in 1986 ended Sutton's auto racing career, the ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran had captured numerous titles on the smaller circuits.

After winning several drag races at Crofton's Capitol Raceway and posting the fastest times at the Virginia Spring Nationals during the late '60s (with a 1964 Corvette), Sutton competed in the major Figure Eight circuit during the middle '70s and early '80s. From 1978 through 1981, he finished no lower than third in the 36-car Figure Eight World Championships in Islip, N.Y. In 1980, he captured first place.

"I would have to say that win was my best moment in racing; I had come so close to winning three other times, it felt good to finally win," said Sutton, who later that year established a three-hour endurance track record at Sunshine Speedway in St. Petersburg, Fla.

After the world-championship win, Sutton captured the 1981 Virginia Oval Track Championships of Saluda. The following year he went to work for Buck Baker's Grand National Driving School in Rockingham, N.C., as a driving instructor. While at the school, he was featured in the June 1983 edition of Road & Track magazine.

Sutton said his only regret is the timing of his career.

"I only wish that I hadn't waited so long to get into the big leagues," said Sutton, who raced with such greats as Richard Petty, Al Unser Sr. and Darryl Waltrip. "Auto racing has come a long way in the past 10 or 15 years. There's so much money in it now.

"There once was a time when you could work out of a garage and still be able to race in the big leagues," he said. "You can't do that anymore.

Nowadays, you need some pretty big sponsors. I could really get back into (big-league racing) again, but this time I'd like to get back into it with Kelly."

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