Wade Cole doesn’t like it when much attention is focused his way. He likes to work on his race car, climb into his race car, run the race and then load up and head home. He doesn’t count how many starts he has or keep track of his racing accolades.
In fact, it was a shock to Cole when he learned that he was making a milestone start at Bristol Motor Speedway last month. That hot and humid August day in the Tennessee mountains was his 350th NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start.
His salt-and-pepper mustache gave way to a smile as he sat inside his mostly yellow Modified on pit road at the “Last Great Colosseum” when he was informed of that.
“I didn’t know that. I don’t count them that way. It’s hard to believe it’s 350 races.”
Cole was waiting in the tech line when he was informed of that day’s career milestone. While his fellow drivers were doing the same thing – sitting in their cars waiting to go through tech – Cole’s situation was visibly different. Every other car had a battalion of crew members with tools in hand standing guard at their cars as they waited to find out from officials if any adjustments needed to be made.
Cole doesn’t have crew members to push his car. It’s just him and his race car. While other cars get pushed through the line by their crews, Cole waits for the gap in front of him to grow large enough before he fires up his engine and rolls closer to the front of the line.
If you’ve seen a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race since 2007, you’ve probably seen Wade Cole at the track. You probably just didn’t realize it.
His car is mostly yellow. The roof and back bumper panel are black. Sometimes the front is black to go along with his black nerf bars. The 33 on his doors are black, but they’re yellow on the roof. The panels on his car show battle scars. Some are dented. Some appear to have been beaten back to straight by a hammer after an incident on the track. Cole races on a very tight budget, so throwing pieces away - unless they’re not salvageable - isn’t really an option. When it comes to tires, Cole said he hopes the purse money from the race will cover the bill.
He doesn’t have a flashy Cup-style hauler. He hauls his car and a little bit of equipment to and from each race on the back of his flat-bed truck. In a day when nostalgia and throwbacks and “old school” is considered cool as long as it’s convenient, Cole does it simply because that’s how he’s always done it.
“I’m old school. That’s the way everyone did it in the old days and it’s just the way I’ve always done it.”
As far as his results are concerned, well those aren’t flashy either. In 351 career starts dating back to 1985, the first year of the modern-day NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Cole has just seven top-10 finishes, no top-five finishes and no wins.
But that’s okay. That’s not why Cole continues to trek out to the track every week.
“I suppose my high is racing,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy doing. I enjoy the people here and my friends.”
Cole started racing when he was 19 years old. The thrill of speed was one of the things that brought him towards the sport.
“I used to drive fast on the street. When I started racing I stopped driving fast on the street because it wasn’t a thrill compared to the race car.”
The other that enhanced his love for motorsports was his relationship with his father. He said that racing was their shared thing. Now, at 65-years-young (he jokes that he looks 80, but it’s hard to say he looks a day over 55), Cole comes to the track with whomever is able to volunteer for the trip, but not his dad. His father passed away more than a decade ago with racing still at the forefront of his thoughts.
“We were always close. He was down looking at the car the night before he died. He loved it too. He was eighty-something years old and he was still doing it.”
Even though racing was their shared passion, Cole said that isn’t why he continues to race.
“That was a special time. I’ll always remember my dad. But this is a special time too. There’s a lot of people that help me with the car and I’m very lucky that way.”
For his 350th start, the Riverton, Connecticut native had just one person helping him at Bristol. That person was his spotter.
When asked who was going to change his tires and make adjustments for him during the mandatory halfway break while his spotter is on the roof, Cole said he was hoping to get some help from other crew members.
“I’ve asked a few guys so we’ll see what happens,” he said with another smile.
Other teams are always very willing to help Cole whenever he asks. If the request is something they’re able to do, they typically do it.
“I think they know I don’t have the resources, but they’re all very respectful and very helpful to me.”
At Bristol, in his 350th career start, Cole tied his best finish of the year by crossing the finish line 17th with the car in one piece. He was able to make the trip to Oswego Speedway in New York where he finished 23rd after a power steering issue put him out of the race after just 104 of the 165 laps that were run that day.
Now Cole heads to Long Island for his 352nd career start. This time it will be on the tight quarter-mile bullring of Riverhead Raceway where anything can and usually does happen and body panels and nerf bars getting beaten in and dented is the norm.
After 351 starts, Cole said just getting to the race track is a good day. From there, his goals are simple.
“If I can get a top 10 that’s like a win for me. If I finish in one piece and get home to see my wife, that’s the best part.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Associate Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo credit: Speed51.com