STL Now: Fast and Furious

Carl Edwards drives NASCAR into the future.

 

Even though NASCAR is a billion-dollar business with an international fan base, it still suffers from an identity problem. A lot of people cant get past the stereotypical down-home, good-ol-boy image that stock car racing still conjures up, and in some cases, promotes. But Columbia, Mo., native Carl Edwards is doing his part to turn that image around. At 31, Edwards is one of the young guns redefining NASCAR as a professional sport on par with the likes of the NFL or NBA. His success on the track is undeniable: He finished second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2008, and came close again this year, finishing fourth overall. From his lofty perch at the top of the sport, Edwards promotes a vision of himself as not just a guy who drives really fast, but as a professional athlete and savvy business man.

“NASCAR, historically, hasnt been the place to go for your role models on fitness,” he says. Edwards, though, has shown off his physique for a number of magazine covers, including “Mens Fitness,” “Mens Health” and “ESPN Magazine,” and one look makes it clear he takes his physical condition seriously. But this wasnt always the case.

“I used to sit around, drink soda, eat fast food three times a day and never thought about working out,” he says. Ironically, it was Edwards intro to NASCAR that sent him to the gym. “In my first NASCAR truck race in Memphis, I literally thought I had a problem with the truck I was driving. I thought something was on fire because I was so hot,” he says. “I realized then that being in better shape and taking care of your body is hugely important.” Currently he works with Carmichael Training Systems, which trains pro athletes like Lance Armstrong, and when he travels, Edwards tries to make sure he has access to a gym or someplace to run. Fitness is even closer to his heart now; Edwards was recently named to the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness & Nutrition.

Just one look at the sponsorship decals covering the typical NASCAR race car (and driver), its obvious that the sport is a commercial concern. But instead of lending his name to fast food companies or auto parts stores, Edwards has chosen to go his own way off the track. He recently signed a deal with Avon for a signature cologne, called Turn 4XT, and hes also involved in promoting new musical talent with his own record label, Back 40 Records, which has a roster of talent that includes hip-hop artist Omega and folk-rocker Jonathan Truth. He also gives back by being the national spokesman for Speedway Childrens Charities, and doing charity work around Columbia.

While the way Edwards handles his career is most modern, he came up in the racing ranks old-school style, by going to races and driving every chance he got. He got the racing bug early on from his father, who used to race VW-powered cars all over Missouri and Illinois. Then when he was a teenager, Edwards saw local boy Kenny Schrader enter the NASCAR ranks, and realized he might be able to actually race for a living.

“I just devoted myself to learning everything I could about the sport,” he says. “I used to pass out these corny little business cards that said, If youre looking for a driver, youre looking for me.” Id go to races all over and ask people if I could drive their race cars.” Edwards took full advantage of the racing opportunities in the area, competing at tracks from Godfrey, Ill., to Pevely, Mo., and all points between, including the late, lamented Gateway International Raceway, just across the river in Madison, Ill., which closed October 23.

Even though hes one of the most successful drivers racing meccas of the Deep South; he still calls Columbia home. “I really like it here,” he says. “I travel all over the world and there are not a lot of places that have more to offer than Missouri.” In the last couple of years, Edwards has gotten married and had a baby, which has changed the way he approaches his life on the track. “I look at my career differently,” he says. “I need to go to the racetrack and give 100 percent because once I go home, I cant take the racetrack with me anymore. I have to be there and be a good husband and father. Thats the most important thing to me in my life.” Edwards says he hopes that focus helps him achieve his primary career goal of winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

While hes confident in his ability to win that championship, he also has faith in the future of his sport. “NASCAR grew in popularity because its hugely entertaining, its very competitive and had a lot of personalities, people who were interesting to watch,” he says. “As long as we, as a sport, can continue doing those things and not fall victim to this weeks ratings or this one poll, I think itll be healthy as long as the greater economy is healthy.”

 

1216_485.jpgCarl Edwards

 

Photo credit: Photo by Walter G. Arce/ActionSportsInc.com.

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