Life sometimes takes the unlikeliest of turns.
For Burlington resident Tony Edward, who co-owns Dark Horse Racing with his son Rusty Edward, his wife Christina was diagnosed with a rare brain condition that temporarily halted his lifelong love affair with racing.
Four years and multiple surgeries later, in April 2020, Christina sat down with her husband and stepson and said, “‘Listen, for the last four years, you’ve done nothing but take care of me – I want you guys to go back racing full-steam ahead.’”
Weeks later, on May 3, 2020, Tony Edward and his son walked into the family’s home in Locust (in Stanley County) and found Christina dead. “She had been murdered,” Tony Edward recalled Tuesday in an interview with The Alamance News. He had last spoken to Christina on the phone 28 minutes before he arrived home.
“It was very eerily quiet, and I found her in the bedroom,” Tony Edward said, adding that Christina was 38 when she died.
Fittingly, Tony Edward and Rusty Edward are certified paramedics; Rusty Edward is also a firefighter. By day, they drive ambulances for Jan-Care, a private EMS company based in West Virginia that contracts with Duke Hospital in Durham for patient transport. “We have 15 trucks we run here in North Carolina, doing patient transfers, you name it,” the elder Edward explained in the interview. Prior to her death, Christina was also a paramedic employed with Jan-Care in Durham.
“When that happened it just threw everything off,” Tony Edward said. “In the meantime, we were in the process of moving to Burlington. In November of that year, I was sitting at the table in that house in Burlington; Rusty walked in, and I said, ‘you know, it’s time for us to go racing. Christina wanted this, and it will help both of us.’”
Racing is in his blood: Tony Edward’s grandfather had been friends with NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. in the early 1940s and “was involved in the initial talks when France was starting NASCAR,” he told the newspaper this week.
Tony Edward started racing as a high school student in his native Texas in 1984 through the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), moved into Autocross, and then made the jump to road racing through the SCCA, before competing in the American Sportbike Racing Association (ASRA); National Auto Sport Association (NASA); Texas A&M Sports Car Club (TAMSCC); and National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) – and accumulating numerous championships along the way.
“In November of that year, I was sitting at the table in that house in Burlington; Rusty walked in, and I said, ‘you know, it’s time for us to go racing. Christina wanted this, and it will help both of us.’”
– Tony Edward
Today, Tony Edward co-owns Dark Horse Racing in Burlington with son Rusty Edward. The Dark Horse Racing team was crowned Touring Class “C” Champions in the Arizona Sports Racing Association (ASRA) in 2003. Tony Edward also holds a Road Racing Class Championship with the TAMSCC.
Son Rusty Edward started out competing in the Phoenix Kart Racing Association in Arizona, most recently testing a Dirt Outlaw Kart at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury.
Birthplace of stock car racing
This week, the father-son racing team is competing against more than three dozen drivers in the Carolina Mini Stock series at North Wilkesboro Speedway, as part of a “Racetrack Revival” that has been launched in hopes of restoring it to its former glory.
The North Carolina Piedmont is considered the birthplace of stock car racing, which began on dirt tracks among bootleggers who set out see whose car was the fastest, according to a July 2020 retrospective published by Our State magazine.
“Their misadventures kind of led to having an organized racing association,” said Tony Edward.
“In November of that year, I was sitting at the table in that house in Burlington; Rusty walked in, and I said, ‘you know, it’s time for us to go racing. Christina wanted this, and it will help both of us.’” – Tony Edward
“The state gave North Wilkesboro $18 million to revive the track, so these are the first races back. They’re expecting over 60,000 people, if not more – it’s huge.” – Tony Edward, referring to the North Wilkesboro Speedway Revival
The North Wilkesboro Speedway was one of the original NASCAR tracks, as was the former Occoneechee Speedway just outside of downtown Hillsborough, later purchased by Classical American Homes Preservation Trust (which also owns the Ayr Mount historical site in Hillsborough) and converted to walking trails. “The last American hero,” NASCAR legend Junior Johnson, got his start at North Wilkesboro Speedway; legendary racecar driver Richard Petty and others honed their prowess on the 5/8th-mile track.
“The state gave North Wilkesboro $18 million to revive the track,” Tony Edward told the newspaper this week, “so these are the first races back.” The North Carolina Department of Commerce announced on May 17 that $18 million from the state’s share of the American Rescue Plan would be allocated to the North Wilkesboro Speedway, and a total of $45.8 million from the federal stimulus package would be allocated to help 17 motorsports venues recover from the pandemic.
“They’re expecting over 60,000 people, if not more – it’s huge,” Edward said of the North Wilkesboro Speedway Revival that began Tuesday night.
After getting the wind knocked out of him by his wife’s sudden passing in May 2020, Tony Edward eased back onto the track. In December 2020, the father-son racing team bought a 1987 Honda Prelude; and six months ago, they added a second car, an early 1990s Ford Mustang. “Neither looks like a Prelude or Ford Mustang,” Tony Edward said.
This Saturday, the Dark Horse Racing Team will race the 1½ -mile oval track at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which the team says has been designated as a NASCAR “Super Speedway.” Next weekend, they’ll return to Orange County Speedway, a 3/8th-mile track in northern Orange County that also has hosted racing greats such as Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Petty, and many others.
More than pedal to the metal
“We run under the Carolina Mini Stock rules but also the NASCAR/Advance Auto Parts rules, as well,” Tony Edward said. “Last weekend [in Orange County], we ran the Mustang [the] first time. Not knowing what to expect, we came away from the track and said, ‘man we’ve got a lot of changes to make.’ Because of the severe heat we had that weekend, we decided not to practice and elected to skip qualifying, which is rare. The thought was, let’s not put too much stress on the car. I got on the track and discovered my steering was too far to the left; it was a caster/camber issue that has to do with the suspension. It was interesting to race like that.”
Nevertheless, the Mustang reached speeds in the 120-mph range, Tony Edward recalled. He drove the Mustang last weekend at Orange County Speedway and finished sixth; Rusty Edward drove the Prelude and finished seventh, the elder Edward said. “I was fighting a real difficult car, if you will, that kept wanting to turn left,” he said with a laugh. “The car had plenty of speed, but going down the straightaway, it was set to turn left more than I needed it to.”
The father-son team recently raced the ¼-mile oval short track at Bowman Gray, as well as the 1-mile oval track at Rockingham Speedway in late June and early July as part of the Carolina Mini Stock Challenge. “With the exceptions of Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, the majority of [our] races are on 3/8th-mile tracks, so everything moves extremely fast, as we typically reach average top speeds in the 130s,” Tony Edward explained. To hone their skills on the track, Tony and Rusty Edward train with Buck Baker’s Seat Time Racing School in Charlotte, which counts among its graduates NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Bobby Allison, among others.
Racing takes plenty of elbow grease, and lately, more money for fuel and other expenses.
“This past week alone, we probably spent about 80 hours doing some changes on the Mustang,” Tony Edward recalled in the interview. The father-son racing team – and sometimes a few friends – work out of Cardinal Self-Storage in Graham, where their cars are stored. “That’s our working shop. We have another shop we work out of in Durham if we need to,” Tony Edward explained.
Two sets of tires for both cars cost about $900 a year ago; today, the run about $1,200, he said.
“Gas to run one race, because we run 110-octane fuel, we will probably use between $400 and $600 [in fuel] for both cars,” Tony Edward said. At North Wilkesboro Speedway, “We’ll have qualifying, the heat race, and the main event. We’re allowed a 30-minute window to practice in our class; then we’ll qualify – usually we run one or two laps and go to the fastest speed possible. If you don’t make the top 24 and don’t qualify, you’ll go through the heat race and race your way in. The final objective is to get to the main race, which is a 30-lap race. Orange County [Speedway] is anywhere from 20 to 25 laps on a 3/8th-mile [track]; North Wilkesboro is a little over half a mile. This is the first time in over 20 years that any cars have been on the track,” he said. “When we found out they were doing the revival, we were really excited. I said, ‘mark the calendar; whatever it takes, we’re doing the race this year.’”
Meanwhile, Dark Horse Racing has teamed up with Door County Candle Company in Wisconsin to raise money to aid people in Ukraine who have been injured and rendered homeless as a result of the Russian invasion. Earlier this year, the candlemaker created a specialty candle, modeled on the Ukrainian flag, to raise money for Ukrainians devastated by the Russian invasion.
Tony Edward and his son learned about the Door County Candle Company’s efforts through a T.V. news broadcast this spring, and wanted to do something to help. Tony Edward contacted the owner of the company, Christiana Trapini, whom he described as a “second-generation Ukrainian,” with his idea about how to promote her efforts to raise money for Ukrainians, through a custom candle, modeled on the Ukrainian flag. All proceeds from the sales – topping $525,000 to date – are being donated to a nonprofit to support the people of Ukraine, according to multiple national news outlets.
For the 2022 racing season and beyond, Dark Horse Racing is donating “hood space” on both racecars – typically reserved for advertising the team’s primary sponsors – to display the Door County Candle Company logo and website address, along with the Ukraine flag.
“With our platform in racing, it will kind of make people aware,” Tony Edward told the newspaper. “I told Rusty, ‘forget the politics – these are men, women, and children getting hurt and displaced.’ I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime.”