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Were it not for a letter, Thomas Poole would have quit racing.
Poole—who last month won his second straight Street Stock championship at Myrtle Beach Speedway—took a long time to become a championship driver. He first raced in 1999 and ran a full season in 2000.
“I struggled big-time for five years,” he said. “I told my wife I was giving it up. I ain’t going back. It’s frustrating. Second. Second. A million seconds.”
Track announcer Bobby Summers wouldn’t allow that to happen.
“I guess he was seeing the frustration,” Poole said. “He mailed me a handwritten letter and told me to not give up. It will happen. And it did. It started happening. (Until then) I wasn’t going back.”
Inexplicably, his racing fortunes changed two years ago.
“I found it,” he said about the start of two-year championship run. “I was sitting in my shop reading a book—and I found it. I’m wondering now how many races I could have won through the years.”
This season Poole won 14 races, finished second four times and finished fifth once.
“It was a lot of years and hard work to get me to the point where I’m at,” he said. “Last year I thought everyone overshadowed the (title) because of the lack of cars. All tracks are struggling for cars. But it only takes two cars to make a great race. And we’ve had some good races.”
Poole won his first title in 2007, and that sparked his run toward the championship this year.
“My good run last year kind of carried over this year, even though we changed tires,” he said. “We’re going with a completely different tire now. And those guys are just taking a little time to catch up to me. They’re getting closer. When you’re on top, enjoy it, because somebody’s working their tail off to catch you.”
Poole estimates its costs him at least $310 each week to race—excluding food costs—and he’s racing for $250 first-place money.
But Poole races for one reason.
“The competition,” he said. That competition includes racing against Dean Cumbee, who finished second in points.
“Dean Cumbee has been a friend for a long time,” Poole said. “I used to help him at Myrtle Beach.”
Poole has mulled about racing in the Polar Bear 150 Jan. 1 at Rockingham. The race will have 99 Street Stocks racing for first-place money of $5,000.
“There are so many changes I’d have to make on my car,” Poole said. “It’d cost something to go up there and buy tires and run that race.”
Poole has thought about racing in another division, but he intends to return next year to Myrtle Beach to defend once again his title.
“I’d love to move out,” he said. “But you ask these guys do they want me to move, the guys I race on Saturday night—no, they want to outrun my tail.”
To get a sense of how important it was for Poole to win his second-straight title, all one has to do is look at the handwritten list of people who helped him this season.
“I don’t want to leave anyone out,” he said. “Every little thing matters.
At the top of the list was his wife, Vickie, and Roger Simmons, who has been with Poole “since day one.”
Amber, Michael, Janice and Phillip Fulwood “all had a part in helping with the car,” Poole said.
Ralph Canady was supportive, as were Kent Bellamy and Clay Gossett, who race out of Poole’s garage. Competitors Dean Cumbee (and son Jeremy) and Willie Grainger, Mark Evans and Jamie Gore, Randall Roberts and Greg Todd made Poole race the best he could. Bennie Ward and Eric Knight also had a hand in Poole’s success. K.T. Bellamy and Tammy Jo Bellamy were helpful, too, Poole said, as was Louie Lewis.
Poole also recalled a favor by Jonathan Lewis—a favor six years ago. “I loaded up (my car), everybody was out of town, and I went to the race track by myself,” Poole said. “I had never won a race. Jonathan was there and asked if I needed a spotter. He helped me that day and I won that day. That was the weekend after 9/11. And exactly to the day five years later I won my second race.”
Machinists Chris Chadwick and Dennis Jordan were key to his success.
Mark Whitt of NAPA in Shallotte, Hoyt Brinson, the former owner of Western Auto, and Lynn Best, who worked at Western Auto, helped Poole. Jamie Milliken “gave me a few tires to practice on.”
C.B. Yarbrough, the dad of Late Model track champion Sam Yarbrough, was also helpful. “I’ve asked C.B. for advice,” Poole said, “and he’s given me a tire here and there to practice with.”
Steve Harden is “the only sponsor I’ve ever had,” Poole said. Steve Brinsfield “helped me one year as well,” Poole said.
And in this championship season, Poole remembered Bobby Summers “for that letter he wrote me to not give up.”
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.