Earl Wheeler always has enjoyed racing. He raced motorcycles as a teen-ager on motor-cross courses and raced mini-stocks a few times at tracks in Georgetown and Delmar, Del.
When he wasn't racing, he was helping out a couple local dirt track teams as a crew member or enjoying the action as a spectator. But he never got the chance to race regularly.
After starting a family, Wheeler became more involved in sandlot sports with his three children, Addie, David and Daniel. When he had time, he would attend races at local tracks. Each time he went, he saw how expensive racing was becoming and began wondering if he would ever realize his dream of racing.
A little over three years ago, Wheeler decided to check out gocart racing at the Monrovia cart track next to the 75-80 Dragway. The champ karts caught his attention.
"I was kind of looking around and one of the guys asked me if I wanted to sit in one," recalled Wheeler. "Once I got in the seat, I knew right then and there I wanted to race one."
At 45, the Sykesville resident knew if he were ever going to race, it had to be soon. All he needed was a kart. A few weeks later, he bought a race-ready model less than a year old.
"I was very fortunate to find this deal," said Wheeler. "It's all top-line stuff, and I've been racing the car ever since."
Wheeler quickly caught on to racing the champ karts. In his first full season in 1995, he won the track championship. The track closed the following year, forcing Wheeler to find another place to race. He tried a dirt track in Hunterstown, Pa., and competed in the only kart race of the year at Trail-Way Speedway near Hanover, Pa. While it was better than no racing at all, Wheeler missed Monrovia's friendly environment.
Before the 1996 season was over, George Streaker, a paving contractor and former sprint car driver, rescued the track and reopened it.
This year, the track opened as planned with a full schedule. Wheeler looks as if he is headed to another championship. With under a month remaining in the regular season, Wheeler is in first in points with only the second-place driver close to him.
The champ karts have been a fun, affordable outlet for him. The champ kart is similar to a go-kart but has a roll cage with a fiberglass body and a regular bucket-type seat. Like the go-carts, the champ kart is powered by a five-horsepower Briggs & Stratton boxstock engine. The little engine runs on alcohol arid produces up to 12 horsepower. The champ kart is raced on the asphalt oval.
"It is a lot of fun," said Wheeler several times. "It is something you don't outgrow; there is a lot of longevity to it. Dollar for dollar, it can't be beat. There are so many positives to it. It is relatively safe, neat to drive. A rolling chassis cost about $2,000."
"It's a good bunch of people there. It's like a big family," said Wheeler. "My family is there cheering me on. I never go home mad. If someone new comes along, everyone helps him with the set-up. I don't think anyone has any deep secrets. It is just really neat."
Now that Wheeler has found his racing niche, it looks like his RTC Sykesville Texaco-sponsored champ kart will be racing for a long time. Wheeler probably will retire from his job with Howard County Fleet Vehicles before he gives up racing.
Brad McClelland of Westminster is one of the leading feature winners in the Northeast with more than 20 wins. He added to his totals last Saturday at Trailway Speedway in the micro-sprint feature. Steve Owings of Westminster was second. Jeff Young of Westminster was seventh in the four-cylinder feature followed by Matt Barnes of Westminster in ninth. John McDonogh of Finksburg won the eight-cylinder feature, and Roy Wareheim of Hampstead was eighth. Charles Kinser of Hampstead was eighth in the street stock feature.
In sprint cars, Jesse Wentz of Manchester was runner-up in the Bobby Abel Memorial at Lincoln Speedway Cris Eash of Woodbine was seventh. Fred Cullum of Hampstead was third in the thundercar feature and Hampstead's Gary Warehime was 10th.
At Hagerstown Speedway, Charlie Schaffer of Hampstead was seventh in the Ronnie McBee late model Memorial. Ken Dillon of Swings Mills was eighth in the pure stock feature and Mil(e Walls of Taneytown was sixth in the four-cylinder main event.
In drag racing, Scott Lowman of Woodbine was semifinalist in Class 1. Jim Peddicord of Westminster was runner up in Class 11.
Pub Date: 9/07/97