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It’s hard to beat experience

Billy (left) and Brett Adkins, a father-and-son Sportsman Class racing team, will compete in season-opening action this Saturday night at Virginia Motor Speedway on Route 17 at Jamaica. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

Brett Adkins, 26, has been racing half his life. His father Billy has been racing for Brett’s entire life—and then some.

Combining Billy’s 45 years of racing experience with Brett’s driving led to Brett being named Rookie-of-the Year at Virginia Motor Speedway (VMS) in 2012.

When the VMS season opens this Saturday night, Brett and Billy will be looking to improve their 4th place finish in the Truckin’ Thunder Sportsman class on the half-mile dirt speedway track.

Traction is the goal of any race vehicle, from go-karts to NASCAR. No matter how much power the vehicle has, the driver and crew have to get that power to the track.

Adkins Motorsports of Woods Cross Roads in Gloucester has an edge in Billy, who can practically look at a car while its racing and tell what would improve traction.

Car set-up is science and art. There are more than a dozen ways to adjust a dirt track race car. Get them all correct, and the car will turn like it was on rails and rocket down the straight. Miss even a few variables and the car will spin tires, slide and lose traction. “I wouldn’t be half of what I am without him (Billy) behind the scenes,” said Brett. “I’m in the seat, but I feel like he’s there with me.”

Brett said he tells his father how the car feels, and Billy adjusts it based on that and what he sees. “That’s why we’ve been doing so well,” said Brett.

Billy learned to set up cars through experience gained in four decades of racing. In 1986 (the year Brett was born) Billy had his best year, finishing second in points at Southside Speedway in Richmond. He also has posted runner-up finishes at Langley Speedway in Hampton.

Billy won a 200-lap feature on Langley Speedway’s .4-mile track, to the chagrin of NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip, who got out of his car, threw down his helmet and left the track, skipping the awards ceremony. 

Billy also drove in NASCAR’s Busch Series (now Nationwide Class) until it started touring and the travel got to be too much. He raced against the up-and-coming Dale Earnhardt Sr., Morgan Shepard and Harry Gant. Billy’s best finish in the Richmond Busch race was fourth.

“It’s kind of like a disease,” said Billy, 61, who got started racing after he drove a demolition derby car in 1970. “I get tired of it and put it down, but I always come back to it.”

Where Billy was an aggressive driver from the start, Brett is aggressive when he needs to be. “I know if I break it, I might not be racing next week,” said Brett, who is an apprentice with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District. “You have to drive smart when you don’t have an open checkbook. You have to be patient.”

Time is limited and being patient is hard in a race that’s just 25 laps on a half-mile dirt oval. “You have to be a pro when you go,” jokes Billy.

It’s easy to burn up rear tires. Brett has to “tip-toe” the throttle on his thundering V-8 as he tries to get 500 horsepower to the dirt track.

“It makes you feel good when you beat guys who have been racing for years,” said Brett. “It’s hard to beat experience.”

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 04.10.2013

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