By Mike Smith
Special to the Register & Bee
Mark Keesee Jr. and Daniel Shelton don’t get many headlines, but they are the type of racers that make the sport go around every week at short tracks across America.
They race when they can. They race as hard as they can. And they love every minute of it.
“It’s a labor of passion,” said Keesee, who has made a handful of Late Model Stock starts at South Boston Speedway this season. “Racing has a lot of ups and downs and we’ve had quite a few downs. The people who have stuck by me are amazing. We do the best we can with what we have.
“It’s always exciting to race a race car. My competitive nature always wants me to do better than the last race. Any time you don’t get the finish you’re looking for can be frustrating, but it’s about competition and doing the best you can.”
Keesee has been around the sport his entire life.
“My grandfather raced at the old Schrader Field in Lynchburg,” Keesee said. My dad raced at South Boston.”
The 33-year-old Keesee, who is from Altavista, raced go-karts as a young child but hadn’t raced since he was 9 when he began competing in a Late Model car in 2012.
Keesee said since making his Late Model debut in 2012 he’s “raced sparingly, maybe 30 races, never run a full season.”
He stayed current in the sport over the years by helping other race teams. He was a crew member with Frank Deiny’s development team in 2012 and also worked some with Dalton Sargent in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and Dillon and Ronnie Bassett in the K&N East series.
He’s also a big believer in giving back to the sport. He found himself with a second, ready-to-run Late Model this season and offered it up to Shelton, last year’s South Boston Pure Stock champion, with no strings attached.
“Mark is a great guy. I’m not paying him anything to run this car and nobody, nobody gets that opportunity these days. That tells you enough about what kind of a guy he is,” said Shelton, who has also run races for Nathan Crews in another Late Model this season.
“I reached out to Daniel Shelton and put him in the car I ran in 2018,” Keesee said. “He’s got the passion and the talent but not the money. I feel like if more people don’t do things like that, the sport is going to continue to trend downward.”
Keesee and Shelton, who is from Hurt, make up almost half of the entire crew for the two cars. On a good night they have five crew members … and that includes the two of them. Keesee and Shelton both say two of those crew members, Leroy Austin and his wife, Sherikka, have been vital to the team.
“They have been there every race, supplying support,” Keesee said.
Without big dollars backing them, it takes a while to recover from wrecks and such. Saturday night’s Davenport Energy NASCAR Late Model Twin 75 will be Keesee’s first night back since a big crash June 29.
Keesee, who works at ABB Inc. in South Boston, uses lessons learned on the job to manage his race team.
He says “by recognizing the costs and managing it properly” he’s been able to pay the team’s at-track expenses every race this season, a pretty remarkable feat for any team, much less one who isn’t running near the front every week.
Keesee said he has a sponsor for his car, but one that “has elected to remain silent,” and didn’t want to be emblazoned on the car.
Both Keesee and Shelton will be on the starting grid Saturday at South Boston Speedway with the Davenport Energy NASCAR Late Model Twin 75s. There will be twin 75-lap races for the Late Model Stock Car Division, a 50-lapper for the Limited Sportsman Division, a 30-lap race for the Budweiser Pure Stock Division and a 15-lap event for the Budweiser Hornets Division.
Grandstands open at 5:30 p.m., qualifying starts at 6 and the first race begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 with children 12 and younger will be admitted free with a paying adult. Also, all Halifax County School System personnel will be admitted for $5 with proper ID.