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Bobby Thomason and his sons Wesley and Cary live on grilled cheese, tomato soup and fast cars.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.
It’s the cheap, down-low special come eating time at the Thomasons’ house in Vinton.
“We’ve eaten more grilled cheese and tomato soup than anybody in Roanoke,” says father Bobby Thomason, who lives with his two sons, Wesley and Cary.
“All three of us can cook grilled cheese because we’ve had to do it.”
To save money to go racing. That’s why the menu doesn’t change.
Forget the steak and lobster. This bunch eats cheap because all three love racing.
“It’s not a problem for us to sacrifice because we do without a whole lot in order to turn left,” Thomason said.
“That’s the best way I can describe it. This is what we do. We turn left!”
Racing rules this house. Smoke, oil, tires. And firing up motors that roar “ummm-bahhhhh” in return.
The boys can thank the old man for the rumble.
Bobby Thomason, 55, drove race cars on and off for 10 years, winning races at Franklin County and Natural Bridge speedways. He also spent years helping crews for former area drivers such as Orvil Reedy (Troutville) and Joe Thurman (Rocky Mount).
Since divorcing his wife in 2001, Thomason has raised the two boys as a single parent. Talk about apples not falling far from the tree.
The boys talk about little else but racing.
“When me and their mother split up, that’s all Wesley ever talked about was wanting to drive a race car,” Thomason recalled. “Right after we split up, and this is a statement I think about every day ... him and I were in the backyard of my parents’ house and he looked at me and said, ‘Dad, are divorces expensive?’ I said, ‘Well, they can be.’ And he wasn’t but like 12 years old when he said, ‘well, I don’t guess I’ll ever drive a race car.’
“And I said: ‘I guess you will!’ And I kept my promise to him.”
Wesley, 25, caught the racing bug early and was strapping into go-karts by age 5. Cary, 15, is now piloting a go-kart at area tracks.
It’s a family endeavor.
“We watch all the races on television together,’’ the old man said. “We’re all Kevin Harvick fans now.”
Wesley started driving at Franklin County Speedway in the U-Car division, a class featuring smaller race cars running laps at roughly 60 mph. The kid was a wheel man.
Although he didn’t win a race in 2007, Wesley completed 978 of the series’ 980 total laps for the season.
In December 2011, complications related to diabetes forced Bobby Thomason to quit his job as store manager at City Electric Supply on Salem Turnpike. A month later his left leg was amputated just below the knee in January 2012.
“I really don’t have any regrets about that,” he said. “I was laid up for three months, released on March 15, 2012, and I was at the racetrack two days later with Wesley and never missed a race last year.”
The elder Thomason, who now collects disability, made another big decision around the same he lost his leg.
He went to the bank and withdrew 10 years of retirement savings.
“Everything I had in the bank, everything, I just put in this operation here,” he said.
“Wesley came to me and said, ‘Dad, I’ve got an opportunity to get a Late Model car and said I would like to try that.’ We ended up buying a car from Mike Dudley of Roanoke.”
Thomason won his first Late Model Stock race last year at FCS in the 12-year-old car, which has won more races at the 3/8th-mile than any other mount in division track history.
“We’re getting a lot better than I ever dreamed,’’ said Wesley, whose second-place run at FCS last week marked his fifth top-three run in the past six races at the Callaway track. “If you had told me back in 2007, when we first started racing U-Car that I would be racing Late Models in 2013, I would have laughed at you because I never would have believed it.
“There’s a lot of kind people out there who have helped us get here. Every time I get out of this car, I’m just so thankful. I’m overwhelmed sometimes.”
The elder Thomason swung a budget deal to house the team’s cars in a rental garage spot at the old American Viscose plant off 9th Street in southeast Roanoke.
“I get more enjoyment out of this than I ever did behind the wheel of one,’’ he said.
The boss man uses a motorized wheelchair at the track to get around various tracks’ pits and grounds.
“I don’t do much work on cars anymore because I can’t get down ... if I get down, I can’t get back up,” he said.
Rest, Pops. The boys do basically all the dirty work at the garage these days.
“We do 95 percent of it,’’ said Wesley, who hits the garage after his full-time 9-5 job at Roanoke’s Hall & Associates, where he handles commercial property maintenance.
“We’re a low-budget team, man. If people knew what we raced on they would be surprised. There’s nothing new on our car but the paint. When I get paid on Friday, I make sure I’ve got the money to put tires on the car or whatever we’ve got to do before I pay bills, and just pray we have a good race.
“I can’t tell you how many late notices [I got] because I wanted to race instead of paying bills. We literally race paycheck to paycheck and we’re doing pretty decent for what we’ve got.”
When asked if he’s thinking about getting married to something besides a race car anytime soon, Wesley grinned and replied: “Lord, no. I couldn’t afford one of those. But I love racing. I live for racing!”
Cary, who is bigger than his older brother, just finished the ninth grade at William Byrd. He’s into the go-karts now, but hoping to move up.
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and hopefully one of these days I can make it to NASCAR,’’ he said. “I’ve been racing the go-karts and it’s fun, you sit about 2 inches off ground running 60-70 mph. Hopefully, in a couple years, I’ll be driving a Late Model. ...
“Wes and I are lucky to have a father like that, who’s really supportive of us. It’s just the three of us.”
Pops is loving it all.
“We started with two things — Wesley’s dream and my promise, his dream to race a car and my promise to make sure that he drove one,” the elder Thomason said. “The biggest return I’ve got out of it is the enjoyment of seeing the smile on his face when he’s having a good day, then his determination of getting things right when he’s not having a good day.”
The oldest boy knows he’s lucky to have a cool racing Pop.
“He hasn’t slowed down, he wants to go everywhere,’’ Wesley said of his father. “He’s got a lot of life in him, man, he’s having a hard time and it’s stressful for us, too, that we have to make sure to look after him. We can’t let the race car take over our lives. He did a great job of raising us.’’
So what if the menu is limited?
“You’re looking at the three brokest son of a guns in the valley,’’ the old man said, laughing. “But that’s OK. We’re having fun. I’m still kicking!
“It’s just the three of us. We know what we’ve built. And we haven’t had to lie, steal or cheat to get anything.”
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