By Carol Wurschmidt
Rick and Rusty Ballenger have a bond that few fathers and sons can claim. Both work at their respective jobs Monday through Friday, but on Saturday, their day is spent getting ready for and racing at the local track.
It all started when Rick began racing in 2001 at the 411 Speedway and Rusty, 11, would help him get the car ready.
“I raced for two or three years and one day asked Rusty to enter and run against me,” Rick said. “I started in sixth place and he drew thirteenth. Going down the front straightaway, my car got bumped and I waited for the guy to pass so I could see who it was.
“Finally, the driver came around to pass me. I looked over and there was Rusty. I couldn’t believe that in his first race my fourteen year old son was passing me.
“That was my last race. I turned the driving over to him.”
Now 21 years old, Rusty has won approximately 20 races including the 2006 411 Motor Speedway Track Champion.
Shy until he starts talking about racing, Rusty pays his own way on the racetrack by working as a welder during the week. His father runs his own business as a handyman for people who need home repairs.
“Rusty and I do all the work that needs to be done on the cars he races and he provides all the parts for the cars,” Rick said. “We can do anything from body work to tearing apart or putting together a motor.”
They picked the number 29 as their racing number for Dale Earnhardt who died in a tragic accident at the 2001 Daytona 500. Like all racing cars, it is placed prominently on the side of their black racer.
As a regular driver, Rusty’s luck has held with no serious injuries, although he has been in several accidents over the seven years he had raced.
“Once, my car flipped and the day after, I was sore all over which lasted about a week, but immediately after the incident, my first question was ‘where’s my hat?’,” Rusty said.
During each race, his baseball cap goes with him as though just another part of his equipment along with his fire suit and helmet.
Rusty enjoys dirt track racing, preferring it to tracks with asphalt. He and his father will continue to support each other working together with the common goal of winning as many races as possible.
“If there’s a race running, we’ll be there.” said Rick.
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