Laurel native keeping Delaware racing legends alive

Laurel native Chad Culver made a trip to his Sussex County stomping grounds and signed copies of his latest book “Legends of Delaware Auto Racing” at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach in mid-December. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

REHOBOTH BEACH — The infusion came around the age of 5 for Laurel native Chad Culver.

That’s about the time the auto racing bug entered his bloodstream while spending many a weekend night watching his childhood heroes battle for checkered flags at Georgetown Speedway or Delaware International Speedway in Delmar — and he’s been infected with racing fever ever since.

Hard-charging drivers who went on to become dirt-track legends at those racetracks in Sussex County — names and personalities such as Walt Breeding, Eddie Pettyjohn, Harold Bunting, Bobby Wilkins, along with many others — ring loud and clear in Mr. Culver’s memory.

Now, in their honor, Mr. Culver is doing everything he can to document his own uneraseable history of auto racing in Delaware.

He recently released his fourth book, “Legends of Delaware Auto Racing,” published by the Arcadian History Press. It is the fourth book on auto racing he has published.

The book contains around 32 interviews with different personalities who helped shape the auto racing scene in Delaware and more than 75 photographs from First State racing action over the past century.

“It is by no means (a book) based on any kind of rank or top 30 list,” said Mr. Culver, who also operates the ever-expanding Culver Auto Racing Museum at his home in Smithfield, North Carolina.

“This is simply 32 people that we chose who had an impact on racing in the First State. My hope is that this is the first volume and we can do another book soon, because there are many more people involved in racing that deserve to have their story told.

“One book cannot simply hold all the history that racing in Delaware has provided.”

Anyone can tell by the way his eyes light up when Mr. Culver speaks about those race drivers exactly how much those memories mean to him.

It was easy to see as he casually talked to customers and autographed copies of his latest book at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach last month.

“This is just what I love to do,” Mr. Culver said. “There’s not a day goes by where I don’t work on a book or I don’t work on a race car and people say, ‘How do you get so much done?’ Well, I really don’t try to do two projects at once. I do a project and I complete it.

Preserving Delaware dirt track legend Walt Breeding’s No. 1 modified racer was a dream come true for Chad Culver. Not only will the car occupy a spot in Mr. Culver’s museum, he hopes to drive it in pace laps at dirt tracks in Georgetown and Delmar when he gets the chance to return home this year. (Submitted photo)

“I don’t restore a race car (for my museum) while I’m doing a book and I don’t do a book while I’m working on a race car. So, now that the book’s done, we’ll probably look for another race car to restore and, hopefully, there will be another book coming out after that.”

Susan Kehoe, managing partner of Browseabout Books, said she was glad to have Mr. Culver come and visit.

“We’re super supportive of our local writing community,” Ms. Kehoe said. “There’s a large number of writers that live (in Sussex County) and so we make a point of setting up signings for them and help them with their books.

“Arcadian History Press, which publishes his books, that’s kind of what they do. They take these specific subjects and allow authors to really sort of expand on them and really hit a market, which is cool.”

The author, whose wife is April and daughter is Ava, had people lined up about 15 minutes before he signed his book in Rehoboth.

“I go back to the racing at Little Lincoln Speedway,” said Millsboro’s Tony Daisey, who was among those in line with the book. “Auto racing is like a pastime in Sussex County. With dirt racing there’s just more excitement and it feels like you’re more at home.”

Preserving history

Dirt track racing in Delaware definitely caught Mr. Culver’s attention at an early age. The memories might have faded a little, but they haven’t left.

“When I moved down to North Carolina in 2006 I was telling some friends about racing and there was really nothing to show how good racing was in Delaware,” he said. “There was no publication, there was no history of it, so I said, ‘Well, if there’s nothing out there I’ll do it myself.’

“So, I wrote my first book ‘Delaware Auto Racing,’ and I also started at the same time seeking out memorabilia, cars to collect and preserve, and that really led to the first book, which was released in 2012.”

He added, “Seven years later, here we are on our fourth book and it’s just kind of snowballed into something. Racing fans have a lot of passion and it’s been a wild ride for the last couple of years.”

Plus, Mr. Culver couldn’t bear to see some of those Delaware racing legends’ stories never get told. So, he took it upon himself to record and preserve history.

“I grew up racing. I grew up in the stands watching people, watching the racers, it was a huge part of my childhood,” he said. “If it was Friday or Saturday night, it was spent at the speedway. I remember falling asleep in the stands and those drivers were my heroes and now I actually write about them and preserve that history and it’s kind of been surreal.

“There was always plenty of action and stuff going on and it was just something that I picked up from my childhood and especially when I moved down to North Carolina, the racing was so different and, honestly, the racing up here is way better. There’s no better racing than Georgetown and Delmar Speedways, so I just wanted to preserve that, and it’s been my passion ever since.”

His second book, “Dover International Speedway ‘The Monster Mile,’” was released in 2014 and “Kramer Williamson, Sprint Car Legend,” one of last year’s top-selling motorsports books, hit the stores in summer 2017.

In between the books, in the summer of 2015, construction on the Culver Auto Racing Museum was completed. However, he is now expanding it by an additional 2,400 square feet to hold even more race cars and memorabilia from racing’s history.

“The museum also has a new enclosed trailer, so we can now bring some cars and memorabilia to the Delaware tracks several times a year for people to enjoy,” he said. “We tried last year, but it just seemed every time we came up, it rained!”

Two tasks are better than one

Like Mr. Culver said, when he is writing, he’s not restoring race cars for his museum, and when he’s working on cars, he’s not at his computer writing. But they are both things that lie close to his heart.

His main paying job is that of a career development coordinator.

A racer at heart, Mr. Culver is also a veteran triathlete who has completed more than 70 triathlons, including Ironman and the legendary Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. He has also bicycled across America, swam across the Chesapeake Bay and won various races at a state and national level.

Not only is Chad Culver an author, he also has a wide collection of racing memorabilia, ranging from Delaware dirt track racing to NASCAR, on display at the Culver Auto Racing Museum at his home in Smithfield, North Carolina. (Submitted photo)

“I grew up racing go-karts and then when I moved down to North Carolina, I got my first car and restored it and I was just kind of a self-taught mechanic,” said Mr. Culver. “I learned it the hard way, getting in there and turning wrenches and breaking stuff. It’s just kind of gained momentum.

“Now, I have a museum behind my house, and we’ve got over 16 cars in there. Most, if not all of them, are from Delaware and I do all the work myself. Big stuff, like painting and engine work, I’ll farm out to someone else, but I do most of the work myself.”

Along the way, he became the recipient of one really cool artifact related to a NASCAR legend and one of his childhood heroes — Richard Petty.

“I’ve got Serial No. 1 (a specially designed Ford Mustang) from Richard (Petty’s) 80th birthday,” he said. “They were supposed to build 243 of these Mustangs and I’ve got Serial No. 1 and it turned out it was the only one they built, so it’s a special car. I was always a big Petty fan.”

While his bicycle might have been painted “Petty blue,” it was Mr. Breeding’s high-powered modified car with the No. 1 on its sides that got his attention during all those races during his childhood in Delaware.

“We just restored the last car that Walt Breeding built before he passed away,” Mr. Culver said, with a smile. “That’s kind of special to me because Walt, that No. 1 Smithfield Farms/Taylor Messick, was really the first car that I remember as a child. It was kind of like the Petty car where the colors just stuck out at you — that green and yellow car with the No. 1 with the American flag in it, looked like Evel Knievel or something. I just really remember that car as a kid.

“Walt was really my first racing hero and the book is really dedicated to his memory, but guys like Eddie Pettyjohn, Harold Bunting, Bobby Wilkins, the Hills, all those guys I remember as a kid — and I liked them all — and when you meet them all, they’re all great people given they are adversaries on the track and they all wanted to beat each other, you can still talk to them. When you talk to them, they’re all just super nice great, humble people who did extraordinary things on a Saturday night.”

Mr. Culver also has fond memories of Dover International Speedway, a track he saw bring even the toughest drivers to their knees.

“Dover is just a super unique track and a great organization,” he said. “NASCAR’s gone up and down over the years, but Dover’s kind of remained constant. The cool thing about Dover is just how tough you have to be to win at that track. It’s a brutal track, especially back in the day.”

While Mr. Culver is a fan of both dirt track racing in Delaware and NASCAR at Dover, if he had to pick just one …

“Modified racing is my favorite form of racing,” he said. “There’s nothing I’d rather go to than that. If you told me, ‘We’re going to take you to Daytona,’ or ‘We’re going to take you to Delmar,’ I’ll go to Delmar.”

Sussex County dirt is just in his blood — and always will be.