Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

Racing to stardom
NASCAR driver Carl Edwards rides
to fame and fortune

by Jarrett Medlin
Carl Edwards smiles as he jokes with a reporter. Dealing with media has become a daily part of the 26-year-old racer’s first full year of competing in the Nextel Cup series.

When you’re Carl Edwards, life moves fast. A typical week is a blur that looks something like this: conducting countless media interviews, signing hundreds of autographs, traveling the country, appeasing sponsors, fine-tuning cars and speaking at charity events.

Oh, and racing on the weekend.

One day, Carl is watching Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon on TV. The next day, he’s passing them at Pocono Raceway.

“It’s crazy” is how he puts it.

That’s saying the least.

During just his first full year of racing in the Nextel Cup series, the 26-year-old NASCAR driver has won twice in dramatic fashion and is a contender for winning it all. In the second-tier Busch Series, he was in fourth as of early September. Carl’s victorious backflip has become a nationally recognized signature for the young driver.

His face has been splashed across USA Today, ESPN and NBC. Local media outlets in Columbia, his hometown, can’t get enough Carl. People magazine even named the athletic blond with bright blue eyes and a movie star smile as one of its “50 Hottest Bachelors.”

“To think that my son is one of the hottest bachelors is just pretty funny,” says his mom, Nancy Sterling. “The day it came out, I ran across town and bought up 10 copies.”

Thousands of NASCAR fans watch as Carl Edwards speeds by during a Busch Series race at Chicagoland Raceway.

Not that Carl needed the glorified singles ad. He is currently dating Olympic swimmer and model Amanda Beard. He’s also earned more than $3 million from this year’s races alone and NASCAR fans everywhere instantly recognize his name.

Funny what winning can do.

Only four years ago, Carl was still living at home in Columbia and working as a substitute teacher. His father, Carl “Mike” Edwards, a former short-track racer, helped give Carl his start in racing at the age of 13. Despite dominating regional races at tracks in Holts Summit, Lebanon, Jefferson City and Moberly, advancing further required money Carl did not have.

So, Carl set out to change that. He printed thousands of business cards that read, “If you are looking for a driver, you’re looking for me.” These cards now sell for $400 on eBay.

Eventually, he landed a part-time job with NASCAR’s third-tier Craftsman Truck Series. He raced well enough that a week before the truck series opener at Daytona in 2002, Rousch Racing hired him. That first truck race still stands out in Carl’s mind.

“That was really wild,” he recalls. “There’s really no way to prepare for it because you don’t know what it’s going to feel like. I had a little bit of butterflies in my stomach, and I was a little nervous about how it would go. But after two laps, it became something manageable.”

In his No. 99 Office Depot race car, Carl speeds past Mark Martin during the Nextel Cup’s Durock Sheetrock 500.

“It was really exciting going down the back strip in the first lap at Daytona and not lifting off the gas when you go around the corner at 180 mph.”

Even though he had little experience on high-banked, high-speed tracks, Carl lead the race at the halfway point, leaving quite an impression. He went on to win three truck races that year and, in 2003, he won three more times and earned Rookie of the Year. More importantly, Jack Rousch proclaimed him as the heir to Mark Martin’s No. 6 stock car. When veteran Jeff Burton unexpectedly left Rousch Racing in the middle of 2004, Carl instead strapped into the No. 99 car.

What was it like racing for the Nextel Cup that first time?

“It was a little bit more difficult than what I expected,” he says. “It’s really competitive and these guys are just spectacular. I knew my competition was gonna be really, really tough but I don’t think I was quite prepared for how good these guys are.”

Carl apparently learns quickly. In only 13 starts last year, he finished in the top 10 five times. NASCAR fans immediately took notice.

Carl pulls in for a quick pit stop. During the Busch Series, he drives his purple No. 60 stock car.

Although he showed potential, few people predicted how quickly Carl would catapult to the forefront of NASCAR racing. The day after winning the Busch series race on March 20 at Atlanta Speedway, Carl surged past Jimmie Johnson to take the checkered flag. It was the first time any driver on the circuit had won both the Busch and Nextel series races during the same weekend.

Carl emerged from his car, climbed onto the top of the car door, steadied himself, then flipped backwards through the air before landing on both feet. The moment Carl performed that celebratory backflip was the moment he leapt into the hearts of race fans everywhere.

“I don’t know if I had any inkling of what that win would bring,” says his mother, who was in tears after the race. “Like so many other times before during the 10 years we’d been working to get to that point, he just looked at me and said, ‘Mom, we made it.’”

Boy, was he right. Two months later, Carl won again at the Pocono 500 after preparing for the race by playing a video game. To Carl, that win was even bigger because NASCAR fans realized the enthusiastic driver was here to stay.

Since then, Carl has lived life in the fast lane. Racing in both the Busch and Nextel series and traveling all over the country for fundraisers and sponsors fills most of his time. During the half day or day he gets off each week, he’ll spend time doing one of his hobbies — riding dirt bikes, working out, flying planes or mountain biking.

Just before securing the safety netting on his car door before a race, Carl signals that he’s ready. The young Missouri native has sped to fame and success as a NASCAR driver.

Although he has come a long way from dirt tracks in Missouri, Carl never strays too far from home. He still comes back to Columbia fairly often to see his family or to appear at fundraisers and local races. He also makes time each week to do interviews with local media in Columbia. Carl’s mother attends many of his races and sits in the pit area, and his father’s wisdom still rests close to his heart.

“My dad never really made any excuses for a lack of performance, so that’s something that I’ve always taken with me,” he says. “I try to look at myself and look at things I can do better as a driver or team player to make our team faster.”

Carl also offers his own words of wisdom to his 22-year-old brother, Kenny, who is just now getting his start on Midwestern racetracks.

“Above all, I tell him not to take it too seriously,” he says. “It’s a fun sport, and as long as he’s enjoying it and learning lessons he’ll be a really great racecar driver.”

For now, Carl is having plenty of his own fun and learning along the way. Of course, nothing is guaranteed in racing: One day you’re on top and the next you’re on the sidelines. In the meantime, Carl’s eyes are fixed on the track ahead.

“Right now, I want to be the Nextel Cup series champion,” he says. “There are a lot of things that I’d like to do someday, but right now I’m focused on racing.”

To learn more about Carl, visit www.roushracing.com/carl_edwards.

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