Virginia Tech Magazine
Feature -|- Summer 2007

Adam Edwards
Hokie ace: Tech grad aims for NASCAR
by Sharyn McCrumb M.A. '85
These days, NASCAR seems to have a mental image of the ideal race car driver: someone who is not a Southern country boy with a heavy regional accent; a well-spoken, college-educated fellow in his 20s, 6'2" and handsome enough to appear for magazine ads and store displays; a sober, even-tempered guy who is personable with fans, but also talented enough as a driver to hold his own on a speedway. And if he knew his way around a car engine, that would be nice, too.

So if Adam Edwards (management '02; M.B.A. '07) did not exist, NASCAR would be out there trying to invent him. He is all that, and you can take him anywhere--including, he hopes, to a ride in Nextel Cup racing. In spring 2007, the Virginia Tech grad was on campus finishing up his M.B.A., teaching race car driving for the FastTrack School of Racing, and working to make it to the big leagues of NASCAR.

Stock car racing has come a long way since its early days as a regional sport, when mechanically gifted good old boys like Bill Elliott could assemble a competitive race car in the family garage. Now, even in the minor leagues of racing, it is not unusual for parents to pay nearly $1 million to subsidize their son's entry into the sport. But Edwards is trying to succeed the hard way: without millionaire relatives to grease the wheels.

Instead, Edwards says, "I was the Falls Church redneck," indicating pictures of himself in jeans and a flannel shirt posing proudly beside his 1990 maroon Chevy S-10 Blazer. In high school, he equipped the truck with a CB radio and a bullhorn to cruise the streets of suburban Virginia.

Edwards grew up in Falls Church in the 1980s, fascinated by racing and mechanics. He became an Eagle Scout, did yard work for spending money, and later started an offset printing business, creating business cards and résumés for technologically bereft adults. As a teenager he learned auto mechanics by working on cars at the Volvo dealership of Don Beyer, Virginia's former lieutenant governor.

Those early earnings went toward the purchase of his first "project" car, a 1967 Seafoam green Chevy Malibu for which he paid $75. He learned auto mechanics just the way NASCAR's legendary good old boys did: one spark plug at a time.

During his senior year at Virginia Tech, Edwards founded E Squared Racing to compete in the NASCAR Weekly racing series Pure Stock Division, assembling a pit crew of college friends under the direction of fellow Hokie Brennen Shepard (political science '02) of Roanoke, Va., as crew chief. After graduation, Edwards kept racing, winning Rookie of the Year and finishing second in championship points, with two wins, nine top 10s and 14 top fives. He was named the Most Improved Driver, winning the DRP Performance Racers Award.

After graduation, Edwards worked for Black and Decker, marketing DeWALT tools and running show car and fan participation events. He also raced his own NASCAR Late Model Truck in a 22-race season, finishing fifth in championship points, as the top owner-driver team.

In 2003, he moved to Mooresville, N.C., to focus on intensive race training with current Nextel Cup drivers and crews, driving at Lowes Motor Speedway and learning and drafting with the best in the business. His evenings were spent at a state-of-the-art pit crew training facility, honing his skills as a tire changer and carrier and fueler--all skills that proved to be important later when he was given opportunities to go over the wall in ARCA, Craftsman Trucks, and Busch races. In the 2004 season, Edwards served as general manager and spotter for the NASCAR Busch series #16 team, based in Goodlettsville, Tenn.

Adam Edwards and young fans
His efforts to pursue a career in NASCAR while earning his M.B.A. have produced cinema-worthy adventures, occasionally reminiscent of his favorite movie, "Stroker Ace," in which Burt Reynolds plays a NASCAR driver forced to race while wearing a chicken suit. And Edwards says that he has had his share of "chicken" experiences--literally. In 2004, he was spokesperson for the Nation Pit Crew Championship sponsored by Tyson Foods, a job that involved exhibiting a race car at shopping centers and handing out samples of cooked chicken.

When the chicken wagon was on display in rural Alabama, Edwards heard of a local dirt track holding a race to benefit the medical fund of a sick child. "If somebody will lend me a car, I'll donate $10 for every lap I complete in the race," he told the organizers of the race. Since he had never driven on a dirt track, Edwards figured he'd be lucky to last a dozen laps, and the experience of racing would be worth the money. But lap after lap went by, and he was holding his own. He ended up finishing second in the race--and contributing a lot of money to an ailing child.

Other chicken suit moments: In December 2005, Edwards went to the speedway at Daytona to try out for the ARCA racing series, but testing was rained out. In March 2007, after paying thousands of dollars for a chance to drive in an ARCA RE/MAX race in Lakeland, Fla., he missed qualifying for the race by less than five-hundredths of a second.

But sometimes courage and optimism can turn a chicken into a swan.

ARCA Team owner Andy Belmont recalls, "Instead of sulking because he missed the race, Adam attended the drivers meeting, chatted with fans and signed autographs, and then, during the race itself, volunteered on the pit crew of the team's other driver."

Impressed with Edwards' skill and sportsmanship, Belmont offered him his big break: a chance to race an ARCA car for a number of races in the 2007 season. Balancing his grad school obligations in Blacksburg with the racing schedule, Adam spent the spring traveling across the Midwest helping the team and waiting for his first ARCA race as a driver.

What stands between Edwards and a Hollywood ending to his racing saga is the team's need for sponsors--you can race your car on a shoestring budget, but you can't be competitive. For example, since a set of tires costs $850, and it takes several sets to finish a race, an underfunded team is sometimes forced to "start and park."

But Adam Edwards isn't discouraged by yet another obstacle. "I've worked all my life for this chance to race," he says. "I'm a Hokie, and Hokies don't quit."

Sharyn McCrumb (M.A. '85) is an award-winning Southern writer whose novel, St. Dale, is the story of a group of ordinary people who go on a pilgrimage in honor of racing legend Dale Earnhardt and find a miracle. This version of The Canterbury Tales in a NASCAR setting, published by Kensington Books of New York, won a 2006 Library of Virginia Award and AWA Book of the Year Award.

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