No matter which car he brings to the Roaring Thunder Raceway in Ararat, Virginia, or Friendship Motor Speedway in Elkin, Brandon McClure is in his “cootermobile.”
He picked up the nickname Cooter when he came to his second-shift factory job covered in grease from working on a race car. “Cooter Davenport,” they said. It stuck.
McClure is 28. He was born and raised in Flat Ridge, Virginia, where he still lives.
His father, Haynes, has been a constant in his racing life. “He’s never missed a race,” McClure said.
McClure started racing in 2003 at Wythe Raceway in Virginia. He drove a Chevy Cavalier in the Hornet Division — a division set up for 12 to 16 year olds to learn how to race.
The car was blue and McClure stenciled orange numbers on it. It was as old or older than McClure was. “I didn’t care how ugly it was,” McClure said. “I wanted to race.”
In 2004 and 2005, McClure drove in the Mark IV Honda Trucks class at Wythe. In 2004, he finished fifth in the points standings and was named Rookie of the Year.
By 2005, he was winning races and finished second in the points standings — just eight points out of first place.
He still has the truck — a Chevy S-10 pickup. He still has a few other cars — mostly cars he has wrecked over the years.
“It’s still sitting with my wrecked cars,” McClure said. “What am I going to do? Take them to a junkyard and let them get crushed?”
“Those cars will never go anywhere until they rot to the ground.”
Not such a good present
On Christmas Day 2005, McClure, his dad, and “the guys” decided to go into the Late Model business. They drove to Flat Top, West Virginia, to pick one up.
“We were going to go Crate racing,” McClure said. “That was a mistake. It needed a lot of work.
“Ask anybody who knows racing what a Leaf Spring chassis is.”
McClure knows now, too. “We bought it,” he said. “We built it. Got it stripped down. Hung new sheet metal.”
He said he was planning to run both the late model and the truck, but as he put it, “I didn’t know if I could run both of them.”
McClure had a good chance to win the points championship in the truck, but a coin flip with Chris Warren put Warren in the truck and McClure in the late model.
“I was getting run over,” McClure said.
McClure would buy another late model with a 2006 Warner chassis. “First night out, I qualified third,” he said. “I thought, ‘Man this is more like it.’ I was used to qualifying back in the teens.”
The power steering failed him that night, but he was back at the following week. He finished fourth after qualifying for the pole.
In 2007, McClure put all his money into it; lost his sponsor; and “had to sell out. I kept the truck,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll never do this again’. I walked away.”
It was easy to quit. McClure became a truck driver for Galyean Brothers Logistics. He still drives for the company. He was gone five or six weeks at a time.
Back on the track
By 2012 McClure was home on weekends. A friend of his, Michael Gilman, convinced him to check out the new UCars division at Wythe.
McClure realized he missed racing. He wanted to do it again.
So he bought a 1991 Pontiac Grand Am. On Facebook, his old fans and friends, he said, wondered “if I still had what it takes.”
After three laps, the motor locked up.
While looking for another motor, McClure came across Roger Widner and a certain Honda Prelude. “Here sits this black car,” McClure said. “I know the car. I’d seen in it victory lane. I was drooling.
“I knew that car was going home with us.”
For the first time in five years, McClure was racing. Widner still works on his cars and builds his motors. In just eight races in 2012, McClure was 10th in the points standings and again he was Rookie of the Year at Wythe.
Toward the end of 2013, McClure was put into the wall at Wythe — although saying he was put into the wall doesn’t quite capture it, he said. “My car goes completely sideways,” he recalled. “I’m going head on into the wall. There’s a big scoreboard in front of me. I’m bouncing around.
“The car goes upside down. The lights go out.”
McClure said he spent the next day wondering if he wanted to race again. He looked at the car. The roll cage was caved in on both sides. His helmet was broken. There was nothing left of the front end. The rear end, as he put it, was “all torn up.”
He bumped the starter while they were unloading it that day. “It kicked on,” he said. “I said ‘if she’s not done, I’m not done either.’”
He was back racing the next Saturday night.
Racing at Wythe ended shortly thereafter. Starting on the front row of the second of twin features, McClure and the other driver on the front row went into the first turn with visions of the early lead on their minds. McClure saved his car. The other driver didn’t, going off into the wall.
McClure was parked for rough driving. “It struck a nerve,” he said. “They destroyed me. And they didn’t do anything to the guy who wrecked me.”
McClure, with one Saturday night to go in the Wythe season, was “kicked out” for voicing his opinion about being parked.
Racing at Friendship
There were five weeks left of the Friendship season. He ran in the top five all but the first week.
His second race was the 2014 season, there were 22 cars. Starting fourth, he lost a front tire early. McClure said “a swarm of people” came over to change the tire.
He battled back from the rear of the field and in the end — after a battle with Stephanie Caudle Clew and Clifton Richardson — he lost by a half-car length to James Graybeal.
McClure, while disappointed he didn’t win, knew “we were going to be all right.”
He finally got his wins, although the first two came after he finished second to a car that was disqualified.
He got his win on the track at Roaring Thunder. After battling David Fulk side-by-side and after Clew blew a motor, he won. “Now I’m happy,” he said.
There has been more mechanical problems for McClure. And then in early June he flipped his car at Friendship.
He’s got three wins this season at Friendship, but none since May 10 — the sixth night of the season.
“I want to get back in victory lane,” he said. “We’ll have to see how everything goes. You can’t keep me down.
“I don’t have enough sense to quit.
“We know we can do it. And then keep a doing it. Ninety-nine things can go right and one can go wrong and that’ll be the one thing that costs you the race.
McClure, despite the recent run of bad luck, is fifth in the point standings at Roaring Thunder and fourth at Friendship.
“Regardless of whether I win another race, it’s been a good year,” he said. “But there’s still quite a bit of racing left this season.
“I’ve been in three cars. I’ve had all three up front. Once in a while, it’ll strike me I can drive a race car.”
McClure keeps his fans in mind. “We do it because it’s what we love to do,” he said. “But there’s people who pay good money. The economy’s tough.
“They want to see that good door-to-door, lean on each other racing, not to see cars torn all to hell.”
Driving a UCar is not always as easy as it might seem.
“Car control and momentum is key in a four-wheel drive car,” he said. “It takes us a while to recover from a bobble.
“You got to keep it wound up.”
McClure is happy he has moved to Friendship. “I’ve enjoyed the track,” he said. “They’re fair and square.
“You’re not just racing the other drivers,” he continued, “you’re racing the race track. It changes week to week.”
McClure is sponsored by B & T Tire & Auto in Sparta and Roger’s Garage in Abingdon, Virginia. His crew includes Widner, his dad, and Clint Dodson. McClure also thanks late model driver Benji Hicks and his crew for the help the give as well.
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-258-4052 or Twitter @elkinareasports.