For those who believe that stock-car racing is mostly about the car and very little about the driver, meet Mark Slye. Mark took the Modified Division car his nephew, Matt Slye, has struggled with all season and drove it to twin victories on July 30 at Langley Speedway.
Don't think for a second that Matt is either embarrassed or frustrated that Uncle Mark showed him what it takes to win. Matt is in just his second year driving a Modifieds, and was barely out of elementary school when Mark started driving and winning championships in them.
"The man holding the steering wheel definitely makes a difference," Matt said when asked about his uncle's success. "He's been running these cars for a long time, and I knew if there was anybody who could get in one and make it run right, it was him.
"It's like (seven-time Late Model champion) Phil Warren crew chiefing a car, then driving it straight to the front. I knew I was in the same situation: that my crew chief was probably the best driver in the division.
"It doesn't bother me one bit that he won. I just wanted to get the car right and I knew he was the man for the job."
Mark began his racing career by winning consecutive Street Stock titles at Virginia Motor Speedway in 1989-90. He moved into a Modified in 1991 and would go on to win titles at Southampton Motor Speedway and in the Rolling Thunder Modified regional touring series.
But he hadn't raced since 2004 because of job responsibilities. Then, when Matt became so frustrated with his practice and qualifying effort on July 17, he asked his uncle to drive the car in Twin 25-lappers.
Mark surged from 20th starting position to a sixth-place finish in the first race, then finished sixth in the second race despite getting caught up in a wreck. More important than the finishes — which equaled Matt's best showings of the past two seasons — Mark's experience helped him figure out what he and his nephew needed to do to make the car better.
"He wasn't able to communicate the issues that we were having with the car," said Mark, who added that driving it helped him get a better feel for what those issues were.
They needed to improve the car's front and rear geometry, the springs and the sway bars so that it would turn more easily in Langley's sweeping corners.
"It couldn't turn in a 40-acre field," Matt said of the car's performance.
But Mark practiced it all day on July 30, relaying the adjustments needed as the day went along. Then he qualified it on the pole and won both 25-lap races, beating division points leader and defending champion Shawn Balluzzo to the checkered flag in both.
"It was a complete surprise," Mark said of his double victories. "But the point of this is to get the car so that Matt can be up front with it instead of me.
"We're going to put him in it and make him learn how to drive it as it is now."
So, Matt is likely to drive the car on Saturday when Modified Twin 25-lappers will highlight a nine-race card at Langley Speedway. But Uncle Mark's trips down memory lane and twice in Victory Lane last week, left them both with great memories.
"I grew up going to the race track and watching (Mark) drive this type of car, with the red and yellow (No.) 33," Matt said. "This brought back a lot of memories watching him race when I was a kid and he won the Modified championship at Southampton."
Said Mark, "I dedicated those races to may dad (Pop Slye). He died in February and that was the first time I'd ever been in Victory Lane without him.
"He was more than my father. He was my best friend."
Also on the card at Langley Speedway on Saturday will be Super Truck Twin 20s, along with a Super Street 40, UCAR 25, Pro-Six 30 and Mini-Cup 15. Racing begins at 7 p.m.