April 5, 2012 8:39:43 PM
Racing has proven to be a stabilizer for Bill Sudduth.
Years ago, Sudduth used to fish and hunt. He also admits he liked to party. But things -- and hobbies -- changed when Bill met Brenda Langford. Racing replaced fishing and hunting as an activity Sudduth did in his spare time. That "hobby" quickly turned into a "passion" that Bill and Brenda have embraced.
Years later, Bill and Brenda Sudduth are still going strong, thanks in part to the power of racing.
"I probably would be divorced if I wasn't racing," said Sudduth, 52, who celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary April 1. "If you're racing, you don't have time for anything else."
Bill and Brenda Sudduth are just two players in an extended family of racing. Years ago, Bill helped his nephew, Jamie, discover his love of racing. In addition to allowing Jamie to help him work on his car, Bill remembers taking a 12- or 13-year-old Jamie to a race in Phenix City, Ala., where fans saw drivers race up to speeds of 140-150 mph.
"He never saw anything like that," Bill Sudduth said of Jamie. He always wanted to race. When he got married and settled down, he got into racing."Today, the Sudduths and their families are fixtures on the local racing scene. The Millport, Ala., residents will be in Columbus this weekend to participate in the Southern Street Stock Showdown at Columbus Speedway.
The race Saturday will be one of the biggest one-day show Street Stock events in the region. It was created by track promoters Mike Mauldin and Jeff Greer, who wanted to have a showcase event for one of the most competitive divisions in the Midsouth. Jeff Burns Racing Engines will be a sponsor.
This season, Jamie has had more success than Bill. Jamie finished first in the Street Stock event March 31 at Columbus Speedway. He also took second in the division April 2 at Magnolia Motor Speedway. Bill took fourth in Street Stock division March 24 at Magnolia.
While victories make things a little easier for the Sudduths, both drivers said their love for the sport keeps them going.
Bill has been racing for 27 years. He started in street stocks, moved to open wheels, and returned to street cars when it became too expensive to race open wheels. He said he plans to race in just about every event at both tracks in Columbus and will travel for races in the region if his work schedule allows it.
"I just like the competition," Bill Sudduth said. "Running side to side and racing six inches off somebody is fun. I have made a lot of good friends over the years."
Bill said his experience helps him remain competitive. He said the key to longevity has been his ability to learn from mistakes and not to make them again. While he readily admits racing is a "passion," he said it remains fun and he doesn't let races he doesn't win linger in his mind.
Instead, he prefers to channel his energies back into his passion and to build stronger bonds. He said his wife, who works at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Columbus, has been an integral part of his team. Brenda paints the numbers and letters onto his car and travels with him to races as much as her work schedule allows her. He said he remembers times they have traveled to Meridian to race and he has stopped at the hospital early in the morning on their way back through Columbus to drop Brenda off for the start of her shift.
"She likes it as much as I do," Bill said. "(Racing) has kept us married over the years."
Bill said he has told his wife how important racing has been to their marriage. He said he is careful to pay his bills first and then use extra money for racing. Brenda helps manage the finances by keeping records. Bill said Brenda can go back through the years and tell you how much he has spent on his car.
"It ain't nothing but fun," Bill said of racing. "If you're in it to make money, you're in the wrong business."
Bill also is proud of Jamie's success. He said Jamie is a "pretty good driver" who is gaining valuable experience early in his career. He said it makes him feel good to know he played a part in helping introduce Jamie to racing.
Jamie is in his fifth year of racing. He said he and his brother, Wayne, used to race in a two-man cruiser class in Columbus, but that division was cut out due to a lack of cars. Like his uncle, Jamie said racing is something he does for "fun" on the weekends. He said his mother and his sister often will attend races to lend support. He also has plenty of helping hands from his wife, Gigi, who runs the pit gate, and his daughters, Harley and Halle.
"I have two little girls who love it and I take them with me every time," Jamie Sudduth said. "They help me (as much as they can)."
Jamie isn't sure how he rates as a driver, opting to label himself an "average" driver. He said he plans to continue to race for four or five more years.
"I haven't tore anything up yet," Jamie Sudduth said. "I guess I am taking care of equipment (which is why he is doing so well)."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.