Ben Shelton: Don’t Forget To Enjoy The Ride Along The Way

It’s 10:07 a.m. on a Friday morning, and I’m sitting in a small diner in Celina, Ohio.

Most people would probably ask, “Where is Celina, Ohio, and why are you there.” Unless, you are familiar with the area surrounding Eldora Speedway, odds are pretty good Celina isn’t on your radar. However, for me it’s home for the better part of a week in early June, and then again in early September.

A view of main street in Celina, Ohio. ( photo)

It is this locale where me and the pay-per-view crew stay while working the Dirt Late Model Dream and World 100 at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway. It’s a quaint little town about 25 minutes north of the track. Apart from being on the banks of Grand Lake, (the largest inland lake in Ohio), there’s not much else which makes this a tourist destination per se. However, we love this little town.

On this particular morning, I’m situated around the breakfast table with seven of my brethren from the production crew. We’re not blood family, but we’re still family. Hell, there’s many months, where we spend far more time together than we do with our own families. We grew up far apart from one another with origins including Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, and Indiana. However, the love for racing has brought us together through the years. So yes, in our hearts and our minds, we are family.

As we sat there that morning, we all took turns telling stories. Some were about racing, but most were not. We shared laughs. We shared incites. Honestly, we talked about anything and everything.

Time away from the track on race trips with the crew are sometimes the best part.

At the end of one of the stories, as the laughter began to slowly fade, I felt compelled to share an observation with the group.

As I looked around the table at my breakfast mates – all of whom were at least a few years younger than myself – I said the following:

“I don’t want to sound too sappy here, but there’s something I want all of you to always remember. Moments like this are the true beauty of what our sport affords us. Sure, sometimes we’re going to see happenings at the racetrack we’ll never forget, but the truly best memories are made with friends. Those are the ones which stay with you. Those are the ones which will always be able to make you laugh, even on your most trying of days. Don’t let that get lost on any of you.”

Our announcing crew for the Gateway Dirt Nationals each year.

Everybody got really quiet. Honestly, I thought for a moment, I was about to be the butt of some “old man jokes,” but it wasn’t the case at all. In fact, one of our videographers, Ryan Bowling, spoke up.

“I was just thinking this morning, my favorite part of this job is hanging out with you guys and sharing laughs,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s before the show or late at night back at the condo, I always enjoy hanging with this crew.”

Everyone in the group agreed with Ryan’s reflection. We talked about it for a few more minutes, and before we knew it, we were all taking turns ribbing each other about other things. You see, it’s just what we do.

Through the years, I’ve met some of my best friends at the racetrack.

Although the breakfast conversation came to an end, the thoughts in my head did not. Sure, I’ve written stories before about seizing the moment and making time for those things which matter the most. However, now I’m roughly six months away from reaching the milestone age of 40, I’m even more adamant in my position.

In fact, the week after the Dirt Late Model Dream, I planned to take an “off-weekend” from racing. It marked the end of a busy four-week stretch of traveling, and I felt a break from the track would be nice.

But then I got to thinking, and oh what a powerful motivator a simple action can be.

Getting to catch up with friends from the racing community can sometimes be the best memories from the track.

I started thinking about how, as a child, I spent almost every Friday night with my aunt, uncle, and grandmother at a racetrack. That was when I really fell in love with the sport. As a matter of fact, I’m certain my instantaneous love for racing far surpassed the passion anyone in my family ever felt for the sport. I know there were weeks they didn’t want to go to the track but they knew I wanted to be there, so we went.

Over the years my aunt and grandmother started going less and less, but the one constant was my uncle Gary.

Anytime Uncle Gary can go to the races with me is always a bonus.

As has been documented previously, Uncle Gary is my late mother’s younger brother. Even though he was only 17 years old when I was born, he maturely filled the role left void by my deadbeat father. Throughout the years, he stepped up and did whatever was needed to make sure I never missed out on an opportunity just because I didn’t have a father in my life.

We were racing buddies from the get-go. This stayed the course through my teenage years, into my 20’s and even into my early 30’s. However, as I began working to build a career in racing, my endeavors regularly took me far away from our normal stomping grounds. While getting to live my dreams was just the best thing ever, I definitely missed going to the track with Uncle Gary every week.

Due to my busy schedule, I rarely get to hang out with my best friend Avery (left) or my uncle Gary (center). As a result, I make the most of the opportunity whenever I can.

Fast forward to Father’s Day weekend 2019. My plans for an off-weekend were quickly changed, when I realized it would be awesome to go spend a Friday night with Uncle Gary at the track. In my mind, it would be like old times to go enjoy a night of racing at Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis, Arkansas.

And what better night for us to go than on the weekend which pays homage to all of the father figures out there. I learned early in life, you don’t have to be a biological father to a child to be their father figure. Uncle Gary was indeed mine.

Going back to Riverside International Speedway with my uncle brought back a flood of childhood memories.

The reality was, the night was indeed like old times. Riding to the track, talking racing, and talking about life. While it was like old times, it was actually so much more. This evening together at the track represented new times because we were making new memories, almost 40 years after those first trips together to the track.

I had a great time and saw so many old friends I rarely get to see anymore. The racing action was fantastic, and it felt so good to be back “home.”

Attending a charity event with some of my favorite racing folks.

I’m not sure when my hectic schedule will afford me another night like this one, but rest assured, I’ll make it happen sooner rather than later.

I’ve rambled far long enough in this piece. But, if you’ve made it this far, I ask you to please do me a favor – In fact, do yourself a favor – don’t lose focus on what really matters and who really matters in your life. Enjoy those simple instances at a random diner or those nights at the race track with your family.

I always enjoy spending quality time with my beautiful wife. She sacrifices so much, so I can live my dreams in racing.

Savor those moments.

At the end of the day, it could very well be your most prized possessions.

About the author

Ben Shelton

Ben got his start at historic Riverside International Speedway. His accomplished motorsports media career includes journalist, race announcer, and on-air personality.
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