Youngster Races At South Side
By Chai Gallahun
Sep 20, 2013, 10:01
Sometimes fate plays its hand in strange ways such as the unlikely intersection of nutrition and NASCAR racing. What do pit stops and pit barbeque have in common at the Richmond International Speedway?
There, the answer accelerates toward pole-position in the form of Alex Brock, whose raceway tale began in an unlikely avenue: barbeque.
Every spectacular tale has an origin story, and this is Alex Brock’s.
Let us take a quick peek into the past of the local area’s legendary Southside Speedway to set the stage. Established in Cold War era 1959, the speedway has been owned and operated by the same family, and has hosted racing legends like Richard Petty, and others, to the thrill and entertainment of countless fans.
Fans get hungry as the cars race around the turns and garner for better positions. Spectators consume hotdogs, hamburgers and other raceway fare with the same frenetic frenzy circling the track before them, washing tasty treats down with various beverages. Eating is as essential to the enjoyment of racing as it is to football, baseball, professional wrestling and other entertainment.
But, what about the drivers and pit crews? Surely they must eat, too? When the human need for sustenance collides with the desire for high-speed entertainment, interesting manifestations can occur. And, this is when the magic happened. Such was the case with Jimmy Brock and his son, Alex.
“That’s how we got into the business, with catering. We would go out there and the owners of the [Richmond Speedway] track would get us to set-up and feed all of the drivers, pit crews, and everybody in the infield, doing a big barbeque, and it kind of progressed from there,” said Jimmy, owner of Brock’s Bar-B-Que in Chester.
They have been catering meals for NASCAR drivers since 1975.
In fact, that is how Alex was exposed to racing. Jimmy Brock took Alex and his oldest son, Austin (now a senior at Virginia Tech), to deliver the food, and Alex was consumed by it. “He already played baseball and soccer… and he said ‘Dad, I just want to race,’” said Jimmy.
There it began.
At the age of 14, Alex developed a passion for racing. Bitten by the racing-bug, Alex has been racing for two years now, driving a 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier, two-door, five-speed manual.
In his very first race, Alex started in last place. He finished in seventh place. Jimmy said, “We told the track officials that he had never raced before, and asked if he could start last. We were just planning on watching him ride around at the back, just figuring out how to drive.”
But, fortunately, things did not go according to expectations. Alex was not content with simple familiarization. When asked what he enjoys most about racing, Alex said, “Just getting out and racing with everyone here. It’s really fun.” He also included that he likes the competition, doing well and passing cars, which is exactly what happened during his first race.
“Next thing you know, he’s going up through there with a seventh-place finish –a lot better than what anybody expected,” said Jimmy.
A lot better, indeed, especially considering that most drivers in the race have had their driver’s licenses since before Alex was born. However, Alex’s stunning success during his first race was no accident. He had trained and prepared beforehand with his father and other mentors, for whom he expressed sincere gratitude.
For about four months prior to his first race, they worked with Steve Little, spotter and owner of the race car. Also, two of the speedway drivers, Daniel Thomas and Mike Chapman, were helping train Alex with corner approaches, braking and throttle.
Alex said, “I’ve had a lot of help along the way, including Brock’s Bar-B-Que, Farm Bureau Insurance, with Lee Thompson. He helped me out a lot. And, to all the drivers here. Three-time champion Mike Chapman has been a very good mentor for me, helping me along the way, and really helped get me going.”
Jimmy Brock said, “We’ve only raced at Southside, and they say that it’s one of the toughest tracks to learn. A tough track with many wrecks at every race; if you can learn that track, then you can move on from there. It’s where Denny Hamlin [of NASCAR] got his start. Alex has had a good experience there, but we also want to branch-out to other tracks like Langley and Shenandoah.”
Alex never wrecked during training, but had his share of close calls at Southside. “We’ve had to re-skin the whole car,” said Jimmy. “Alex hasn’t created any wrecks, but has gotten sucked-up in them. And, in one wreck, they took the whole left side of the car off, then, he came into the pits. We put it all back together, and Alex goes back out. Then, another guy became loose and took the whole right side out. So then, we had to re-skin the whole car after last season. This year we have been fortunate.” Alex’s driving skill has improved, specifically his reaction time. “It’s luck and skill,” said Jimmy, “He avoided a bunch of nasty ones this year.”
Despite word of “redemptions” rumbling about the raceway, anticipating the possibility of a demolition-derby spectacle, Alex and his car succeeded unscathed at Southside Speedway’s final race of the 2013 season.
However, drivers in other racing series were not so fortunate that night. Jimmy said, “They tore some stuff up out there. One of the cars was totaled. The driver is okay, but was bruised-up pretty bad.”
Alex then went on to race at the Shenandoah Speedway in Page County, Virginia. “When he raced at Shenandoah, the transformation was instant,” said Jimmy. “First time racing there, he placed sixth, earning him his first paycheck.” Jimmy is going to frame it.
“I’m real fortunate,” said Jimmy. “He’s been good and focused, does really well in school. We’ve got the garage set-up, and the shop to work on the race car. His friends come over and they all hang-out. Alex will cook food for everybody. It’s a good group hanging around there, everyone learning more about racing.”
“I thank my dad –my parents, my grandpa –my grandparents… everyone,” said Alex. As far as the racing future goes, it’s an open road. “We thought about it,” said Alex. “And there are many different routes. But, we’re going to be racing for a while.”
Talking to Jimmy and his son Alex, one can see the glimmers in their eyes and immediately recognize that it’s not just about the racing. It is about family, friends, lasting bonds, and love. The support and encouragement exhibited by everyone involved in Alex’s racing experience suggest a greater connection than high-speed competition.
But, what a competition!
While this year’s season is over, be ready to rev-up your engines for the beginning of the 2014 season coming this spring at Southside Speedway!