Messenger - Vol. 4, No. 2, Page 3 1995 Driving Ambition The interior of Larry J. Carroll's NASCAR race car is stark and bare. It's lean and trim, like the man himself. With its Chevy Lumina chassis, stock car No. 77 is mostly sheer steel and tubing on the inside. There's an ignition switch, some gauges set at odd angles and a 20-inch, rear-view mirror. And, there's a fire extinguisher. You climb in through the driver's side window. Once you're in place, the steering wheel is handed to you through the window to be attached to the steering column. The wheel presses close to your chest. Wrestling 3,200 pounds of automobile round banked corners for three hours-at 200 m.p.h.-is impossible with your arms extended. The seat is plastic, molded to Carroll's contours. Unless you're 5-foot-7-inches tall and weigh 150 pounds, you're not going to be comfortable. There's a six-point, quick-release harness and a stiff plate to the right of your head. The seat has no padding or suspension. When you drive, you have to be "at one" with the car, says Carroll, Delaware '82, so that the pulverizing stress on the chassis is simultaneously conveyed to your body. During a race, the car teeters at the absolute, outside edge of control. Anything less than flat-out, foot-to-the-floor intensity and you might as well not bother. "You push the envelope," as Carroll puts it, not for a few adrenaline-drenched moments, but for hours at a time. And, you push that envelope with 40 competitors swarming ahead, around and at your back. "It's both a high-speed chess game and a contact sport," he says, but, on the scorching tarmac of the NASCAR circuit, you and your opponents make your moves traveling the length of a football field every second in steel cages hammering with the energy of 525 horsepower at full throttle, roasting between 115 and 150 degrees, so hot you sweat off 10 to 12 pounds a race, so loud someone in an imaginary passenger seat screaming an inch from your ear would go unheard. And, any false move could mean the end of the game. Checkmate. For you, or for someone else. Not to mention your non-refundable, $100,000 car. "That's racing," Carroll shrugs. Racing is his "No. 1 goal in life," the passion he'll make his full-time profession this year. Getting to this point has not been easy. It's not just a matter of talent, of phenomenal hand-eye coordination, of reflexes. The only way to hone the mental and physical resilience unique to NASCAR racing is to race. "Seat time," drivers call it. "You're in a kind of Catch-22 situation," Carroll says. "To get better, you need to drive. To drive, you need money, which means sponsors. To attract sponsors, you need to prove yourself. To prove yourself, you need to drive." Carroll cracked the NASCAR conundrum because he hustles in the boardroom like he hustles at the speedway, and because he and his wife Peggy, Delaware '87, generate their own money. Peggy is "absolutely unbelievable," says Carroll. She's been a partner in his driving dream "from day one," he says, and she now runs Delaware Homecare, their home health-care business, while he runs LJC Motor Sports. A sociology and criminal justice major (and a rugby player originally recruited for football ), Carroll attended college to fulfill a promise to his father, former long-time Dover, Del., mayor Crawford Carroll. "A good education gave me the groundwork to start in business, and business provided the groundwork for a racing career." He started on the road-racing circuit in 1987. Making a name for himself there, he scraped together enough sponsors to race for driverless NASCAR teams in North Carolina. Then, with his own funds and further backing, he set up his fledgling team. "It got to the point where I wanted to take control of my own destiny. Now, I'm the proud owner of a race car, with another on the way." Assuming, optimistically, that nothing irreparable happens to the cars, he'll race 15 or 20 times this year, racking up seat time for the future. His principal backer is the Wilmington Trust Co. "They've been absolutely first class from top to bottom, really wonderful." The Wilmington, Del., radio station WSTW also is behind the team, as is Alan Spiro, Delaware '83, friend and owner of the Skyways Quality Inn in New Castle, Del. Carroll takes their trust very, very seriously. "You have to make sure sponsors get more than their money's worth," he insists. Carroll, the businessman, accordingly, comes well armed with the bottom-line data of sponsorship from Simmons Market Research Bureau Inc. and Performance Research Inc.: Three out of four NASCAR fans consciously purchase products endorsed by their track heroes; the largest segment of NASCAR fans falls in the high-income group, earning $50,000 and above; 40 percent of the fan market is female. Nationally televised meetings at Dover Downs in Delaware are the largest spectator events in the state, with over 100,000 fans per individual race; 350,000 fans per race weekend. In 1993, two Dover meets brought in over $28 million to the Delaware economy. NASCAR is an expensive business. Special, untracked tires cost $300 each and last about 100 miles. You need a set for practice and qualifying, three or four sets in a race. If you're only in one competition (and many race weekends have three) you're looking at $6,000-just for tires. Carroll's engine burns a gallon of gas every 4.5 miles and costs $23,000. Elite NASCAR teams, the Dale Earnhardts and Kenny Schraders of this high-octane world, have several engines, six or more cars, even specialized cars for different circuits. But, that's all in the future for Carroll. "They all had to pay their dues, too," he reflects. "And, that's what keeps me going." For now, though, it's back to the grind of a NASCAR apprenticeship. Endless hours in the shop. Endless miles on the road. Worrying constantly, striving always to serve his sponsors. Arriving at 5:30 a.m. on race day. Trouble-shooting, final shakedowns on the car, warm-up laps at 8 a.m. Suiting up for ambassadorial duties in the hospitality suite; chatting to clients flown in from around the country; interviewing for TV, radio, magazines. Too nervous to eat, downing Gatorade by the gallon. All for that moment of truth: "Gentlemen, start your engines." "I've played a lot of sports and I can tell you that nothing, nothing, comes even close to what it feels like being in a race car," declares Carroll. "The noise, the colors, the vibration. Your stomach goes to your throat. You're thinking how this is just outrageous, then they drop the green flag. You put your foot down, then you're 'yee- hawing' and it's just amazing. It's the greatest feeling in the world." Last year was a great year for the Carrolls. They have their businesses, their race team and their first child, daughter Lauren. For Carroll, Lauren is a reminder of the responsibility that comes with risk-taking. "She's a very good reason to keep off the wall," he says. -Steven O'Connor, Delaware '95 Ph.D.