Photo By Derrick Mahone
Joey Clanton talks with his son, Christopher during a Thursday Thunder rain delay. Feature races were cancelled due to the inclement weather.
When Christopher Clanton was born, the doctor might as well have said, “Congratulations! It’s a racer!”
That’s how deep the racing genes flow in the Clanton household. Christopher — an Outlaws division driver at Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Thursday Thunder racing series — hasn’t been racing all his life.
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It just seems that way.
“Back when he was two or three years old, he was watching me race and he wanted to do it even though he wasn’t there,” said Joey Clanton, Christopher’s dad and a former racer himself. “He’s carrying on the legacy now.”
Christopher is a fourth generation driver, and the Clanton’s roots on the track go back as far as the 1950s and 1960s when another Clanton — Joey’s father, Billy — began owning and racing cars.
Joey Clanton says it was his father who made sure that a love for racing would continue to be passed on.
“Me and my brother Rusty started building cars as soon as we could carry a wrench,” Joey Clanton said. “There was no playtime after school. It was just racing. Racing was a way of life for us. We grew up around the track.”
The Clantons’ racing lineage is not only deep but fruitful. Billy Clanton was not only the family patriarch, but also a legendary dirt track racer. And Joey Clanton has taken his fair share of laps around circuit tracks in Daytona, Richmond and Dover as a NASCAR Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series driver.
He was also the 2002 champion of the now-defunct American Speed Association.
But even in light of his success, Joey Clanton says that pressuring his son to follow in his footsteps is not on the agenda. If Christopher — who began racing just two years ago at age 12 — wants to make a career of racing, Joey says he will have to prove it.
“I’m not going to push it on him,” Joey Clanton said. “I started him later because I wanted him to learn the right way. If he’s going to make it, he’s going to make it on his own merits. I want to see if he wants it bad enough or not.”
One thing is for sure: Christopher knows the history — and he loves his place in it.
“I just feel so privileged to have an entire family of racers and racing in my background,” Christopher Clanton said. “Even before I was driving, I’ve been around so many races and been around the track so much that I know what a car does. How if it’s tight it won’t turn easy, and if it’s loose it slips the track. All of that just helps me as a racer.”
It also helps when you have an uncle who has been setting up racecars for as long as Rusty Clanton has.
“I’ve been building cars since I was 12 and I raced for 25 years,” Rusty Clanton said. “Working on a racecar is much less headache than working on a street car. You just get joy when you work a racecar that causes a driver to succeed. For me, I get joy out of trying to further some kid along.”
And thanks to the tutelage of his legendary family, Christopher says he is starting to see his progress.
“My first season I wrecked a good bit,” Christopher Clanton said. “But this year I haven’t wrecked at all. I’m just putting myself in better positions and since the end of last year I’ve been learning how to get more aggressive as a driver.”
Hearing that should make Joey Clanton happy.
“Christopher is very patient. Sometimes too cautious,” he said. “He’s starting to learn when to pass and when to ride, but sometimes I have to push him a little bit.”
And it seems to be paying off. Despite being rained out Thursday, Christopher built some momentum for himself by finishing third in Wednesday’s Outlaws feature. That’s the same place he currently sits in the overall Outlaws Division standings.
“I went from just being a follower to getting closer to chasing a title in one season,” he said.
If his family’s history is any indication, don’t be surprised if Christopher Clanton becomes a force to be reckoned with in the racing world.
But if, by chance, he does not, don’t be shocked to see his family vehemently cheering him on anyway.
“We’re proud of him whether he does good or whether he does bad,” Rusty Clanton said.
And what happens if he doesn’t find the success that others who came before him had?
“I want to go to Georgia Tech and get an engineering degree just like my dad,” Christopher said.
Which, no doubt, is okay with his dad — as long as Christopher is enjoying himself.
“I just want him to have fun with what he’s doing right now whether he makes it far or not,” Joey Clanton said. “Right now it keeps him out of trouble and it gives us quality time.”