One of the southeast’s most respected and recognized names in short track racing is back in the spotlight. This area has produced some great racers for decades, and its residents have another bright young prodigy to support in 2020.
For 16-year-old Steven Chunn, the decision to follow in his famous grandfather and father’s footsteps was easy. He’s keeping a family tradition of oval success alive and well, maintaining a regional legacy.
Steven’s grandfather, Jerry ‘Sherman’ Chunn, used to race himself and worked for high-profile NASCAR stars Darrell Waltrip and Mike Alexander back in the day. His father, Cecil, had an impressive career of his own and has mixed emotions as his son competes.
“I still miss my Dad, but I can see a ton of natural talent in Steven and am very proud of how he is handling this challenge,” Cecil said. “He amazed me and several others when he made his debut in a Pro Late Model at Five Flags Speedway on Friday, June 5. For never having driven a race car of any kind before that night, he really did a great job.”
You see, prior to climbing into that Pro Late Model, the only racing Steven had ever done was on a simulator. Think it’s a big step to go from iRacing directly into a Pro Late Model at Five Flags? Yeah, so do I – but this young athlete was more prepared than you’d think.
“His first lap in time trials was clocked at 17.545 and he ran a 17.546 the next lap, so he was very consistent,” Chunn added. “With no experience at all, we chose to have him drop to the rear in the feature so he could have some room until he got comfortable in the car.
“I realized he was holding himself back. Being a driver myself, it’s very hard not to tell him how to do things. I want him to learn on his own and do it his way. I finally told him if he felt he was faster than the guys in front of him to go around them. Before long, he was passing cars.”
That first outing produced a solid 14th-place finish, and the young man earned respect from veterans.
“He raced the people he could race, stayed out of everybody’s way and didn’t affect the outcome of the finish. When the leaders came up to go by, he gave them plenty of room. If he could get to the bottom before they got to him, he did, but if not, he pointed them low and stayed up high. That’s how you earn their respect.”
This family’s racing background is the stuff of legends. Just for a minute, put yourself in Steven’s shoes. Think about his grandfather and father’s rich history in the sport.
“My father and I raced together for about 22 years,” Chunn proudly explains. “He was involved in the sport from the time I was born. He worked for Darrell Waltrip in Nashville, then worked with Mike Alexander in Darrell’s Busch Series program. Dad and Mike had a close relationship for a long while.
“Dad worked for Mike when he first started out, and then off and on through the years. When he went to the Sims Brothers team down in Pensacola, he worked for them until they shut down. He still helped Mike whenever he could until I started racing in 1990.”
Cecil’s career brought a great deal of success across the southeast. He stayed active until 2011, making a name for himself in NASCAR’s old Southeast regional series.
“When I went to the All Pro Series, Jody Lavender was already using the number 84, so we reversed the numbers and I ran the 48 for the rest of my career. This year, we’re using my old cars and when I asked Steven what number he wanted to run, he said he wanted to use the 84 like I did when I started.”
What changed things for this family, and not in a good way, was when Sherman was diagnosed with ALS in late 2013. The Tennessee racing legend passed away on August 28, 2015 at the age of 63.
Texas Short Track Racing Series (TSTRS) promoter Gina Schild-Knowles met Cecil through a sponsorship deal in Nashville a few years ago, and is thrilled to see his son hit the track.
“The Chunn family history in our sport is so amazing,” Knowles said. “Cecil is honest, devoted and does what he says he’ll do. He has talent beyond belief, and so does his son. They bring credibility and integrity anywhere they race. I’m excited to see Steven racing.”
For Steven, the chance to work alongside his father and draw off that knowledge from years on the asphalt is about as good as it gets. The young driver is serious about doing well, and is a true student of the sport.
“I just got back from a test session at Five Flags with Willie Allen Racing,” Chunn said. “Their crew chief is James Fletcher, and he’s a very smart man. I went down there to try and learn from him. It was a great opportunity for me.”
When he gets to his next race on Aug. 27 (a doubleheader at Five Flags), Chunn says he’ll be ready to go.
“I definitely enjoyed my first race at Five Flags,” he explained. “It made sim racing look boring. It was incredible to actually be able to get out there on the real track and turn some laps with guys like Jake Garcia, Chris Davidson and Bobby Reuse. I loved it.”
While Chunn may be short on seat time and experience, he makes up for in stature and enthusiasm. The six-foot-four teenager says he’s ready to tackle the challenge once again.
“I’m definitely excited for that doubleheader in August,” Chunn added. “We’ve got a little bit of prep work to do, and a lot of saving money to do, but I can’t wait to get back to the track. I’m anxious to take the knowledge from my first race and apply it to those races.”
With this nice opportunity comes a little pressure, mostly from within the driver himself.
“It’s very cool to be racing with my Dad now, and I wish my Grandfather was still here to see us, as well,” Chunn said. “He helped my Dad out a lot, and now he’s helping me. It’s a double-edged sword. My family name brings big expectations, I hope to live up to them.”
-Story By Phil Whipple, Speed51 Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51