Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lake Speed

Lake Chambers Speed was born on January 17th of 1948. Lake's father, Leland L Speed, was 49 years old and the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi at the time of his birth.

Lake started his career in racing by racing go-carts at the age of thirteen on local tracks around Mississippi. By the time 1965 rolled around Speed had joined the International Karting Federation and won his first of six championships in that series.

After winning his six American championships Speed was invited to race in the Karting World Championship in 1978. That race involved many championship caliber drivers from around the world, including future Formula One racer Ayrton Senna; but Speed was the one who led the last lap to win the World Championship race in karting. This good news was quickly overshadowed in Lake’s life with bad news when his first wife left him later in 1978 because of him not being around.

After Speed’s wife left, a deep emptiness engulfed him to a point where he felt he needed something to fill his time and energy, and in 1980 he began to consider his options for furthering his racing career. Speed looked into places such as Formula One, CART, and the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), but after much deliberation decided that NASCAR would be where he would fit the best. Speed bought his first racecar from a man in Chicago and raced 19 of the season’s 31 races and finished a respectable 22nd in driver’s points standing while also finishing second, to Jody Ridley, in the rookie of the year battle.

1981 saw Speed return to the Winston (Sprint) Cup Series with slightly better equipment, while still driving for himself, and an extended schedule. Speed racing in 27 races of the 31 ran in his sophomore season, finishing 6 of them with top tens and completing the year in 18th in points.

In 1982 Speed decided to run the full schedule of the NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup Series with team owner Roger Hamby in the #17 Yazoo Mowers racing machine. According to the record books, Speed’s car experienced many problems in 1982, from engine problems to oil pressure issues, which led to Speed not finishing 19 of the 30 races he ran. But despite those races, Speed still managed to finish in the top ten five times and finish 20th in the overall points standings.

1983 was a major year in Lake Speed’s life, and it all started with him signing on to race for Hoss Ellington in the #1 UNO Chevrolet. With Speed finally being back in competitive equipment he finished in the top ten twice before getting to Talladega, where Speed’s life was changed forever. Speed was leading the 1983 Winston 500 at Talladega when he had a sudden realization of the feeling of emptiness inside of him despite being in such a successful position in the sport. Speed finished the race in third, but won a much bigger victory in life after the race when Speed accepted Jesus Christ into his heart and began living his life to the standards that the Bible taught. After this important decision in Speed’s life, he went on to finish in the top ten two more times that year and finish 27th in the years point standings after skipping five race between Darlington and Charlotte.

In 1984 Speed decided to run five Busch Grand National (Nationwide) Series races, one at Daytona, two at Darlington, and two at Charlotte. This decision led to a second place finish at Daytona, and a third at Charlotte in his #83 Bull Frog Knits Pontiac. While in the same year Speed ran 19 races in the Winston (Sprint) Cup Series driving again for Hoss Ellington, resulting in 2 top fives and 7 top tens.

When 1985 rolled around, Speed had a contract with RahMoc Enterprises to run the entire season in the Nationwise Auto Parts #75 Pontiac. This was Speed’s most consistent season in Cup as he finished with 14 top tens, an average finish of 13th place, and a tenth place finish in the season’s points standings.

Speed began the 1986 season with high hopes in the RahMoc Enterprise organization, but four races in the team let him go in favor of Jody Ridley who drove the #75 for the next ten races of the season (Jim Sauter and Morgan Shepherd finished out the #75’s season). This event led Speed to not have a car to race for the rest of the season except for when he got to fill in for driver Rick Wilson in the famed Morgan-McClure Motorsports #4 at Charlotte where he finished 14th.

1987 was a building year in many ways for Lake and his newly formed purple and white #83 Oldsmobile team. Speed, with help from veteran crew chief Darrell Bryant, earned sponsorship from Wynn's Car Care Products, K-mart, and Delco for 13 races of the season. Speed was able to put up some impressive race runs in just thirteen starts, finishing ninth at Talladega and backing that up with a third place finish in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The season ultimately saw Speed finish in the top ten an impressive 5 times.

1988 was a monumental year for the newly 40 year old Lake Speed as prior to Daytona he had picked up sponsorship from the Hoosier Tire Company. This led to a tenth place starting position in the Daytona 500, a 6th place finish the next weekend at Richmond, and a 2nd at Rockingham. Because of Speed having sponsorship from Hoosier, he was able to run Hoosier’s at Darlington in a test prior to the race and he discovered that the tires were not blistering as everyone else thought they would. This enabled Speed to have the advantage and win the TranSouth 500 at Darlington that year, leading 178 laps and winning by nearly a half of a second. The year went on and Speed was not able to finish 11 total races due to various mechanical woes and crashes, but he still ended up finishing 17th in the final points standings in the Winston (Sprint) Cup Series.

Speed’s 1989 season began with new sponsorship from Bull’s Eye Barbecue Sauce for his Oldsmobile, and was a fairly unexciting season for Speed until the second race that year at Pocono. Speed was running behind Greg Sacks when something broke and they both ran at full speed into the wall in the turn. Greg’s car began to flip while Speed’s car was uncontrolled and slid to a stop. Speed never moved his car from that position because he had broken his shoulder and missed the next 6 races while he healed. Once Speed came back he blew an engine in three of the next four races and did not post a lead lap finish for the rest of the season. Despite not finishing on the lead lap, Speed did manage to finish the last race of the season in Atlanta in the 10th position.

1990, 1991, and 1992 were very dismal seasons for Speed as he only raced in 35 races across the three seasons, managing to finish in the top 15 only five times, with four of those being in 1992 while driving for Cale Yarborough in the #66 TropArtic Pontiac. The seasons were so unsuccessful that Speed only finished on the lead lap once throughout the entire three seasons.

1993 began in the same fashion as the previous three seasons, but after Robert Yates Racing driver Davey Allison was killed in a helicopter accident at Talladega, Speed was asked to drive the famed #28. Speed drove the car in three races to one top ten finish and one top five finish before being replaced by Ernie Irvan and moving over to Bud Moore’s Motorcraft Ford. In Bud Moore’s #15 Speed finished four times in the top twenty.

Speed’s runs with Bud Moore at the end of the 1993 season earned him the opportunity to run the entire 1994 season with Bud, which paid big dividends for them both as Speed finished nine times in the top 10 and four times in the top 5. These great runs in a time when the sport was become more and more competitive resulted in Speed finishing 11th in the final Winston (Sprint) Cup points standings, just one position behind racing legend Bill Elliott.

In 1995 Speed decided to move over to the organization of Harry Melling, which was a team that hadn’t had a full time driver since Bill Elliott in 1991. This decision breathed new life into the organization as with Speed driving the team gained sponsorship from Spam and Speed finished 12 of the 31 races in the top 20 with only 3 DNF’s. 1995 was also the year of one of the most famous incidents of Lake’s career. In the Miller Genuine Draft 400 Speed was blocking fellow driver Michael Waltrip, which made Waltrip very mad. When the race was concluded Waltrip pulled down Speed’s window net and began throwing punches, which did not hurt Speed as he was wearing his helmet. But the incident did hurt Waltrip’s financial situation as NASCAR fined him $10,000 for misconduct on pit road. After an eventful season Speed ended up finishing 23rd in the points.

1996 was Speed’s last full season in the NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup series, and while still driving for Harry Melling’s Spam Ford the team managed to find 13 top 20 finishes including an eight at Pocono and a tenth at Darlington. Speed also completed 88% of the laps in the season, finishing 23rd in the final Winston (Sprint) Cup points standings.

1997 was a hard year to find sponsorship for Harry Melling’s #9 so the season had to be shaved back to 25 races, with most of them being sponsored by Melling’s company Melling Engine Parts. One notable race in Speed’s 1997 season was at Richmond during green flag pit stops the team accidentally put the left side tires on the right side of the car, and the right side tires on the left side of the car, creating multiple problems for Speed including needing multiple pit stops to correct the problems. Despite the lack of sponsorship in a majority of races, Speed still managed an average 24th place finish and ten top 20 finishes.

Lake Speed turned 50 in 1998 prior to the start of the season, and little did he know that this would be his final season in NASCAR racing. Harry Melling’s car gained new sponsorship from Cartoon Network for 1998, but the results were below par from the previous two seasons, posting only three top 20 finishes in the first half of the season. When the series made their annual stop at Sears Point (Infineon) Raceway Speed crashed his car during practice and was injured, though only severely enough to give his car up for that one race. The next week at Loudon, New Hampshire Speed was involved in a crash that later on was found to have cracked his sternum and broken four of his ribs, which convinced Speed to announce his retirement from NASCAR.

Speed said about his retirement, “This is a God thing, as far as I'm concerned,” Speed said. “He knew the only way He was gonna stop me from racing was probably to put that concrete barrier in front of me and break me up, so that I had to stop. My kids were at the age then that they really needed Dad at home. To be able to not have your mind focused on the next race all the time and be able to give them some attention and time was monumental. The timing was perfect. I fought it, fussed about it and was ill about it for quite a few years, but finally came to realize how blessed I was and, really, that things had turned out for the best.” Speed later on added that even though he may not have had great success throughout his NASCAR career that “[He] can’t count how many moral victories [he] had.”

Speed has drove karts on and off since his NASCAR retirement; which has resulted in him becoming the WKA Karting National Road Racing Series Point Champion in 2008. Speed also has had four wins in Historic Stock Car Racing Association events on Daytona's 3.56-mile road course in 2002 and 2003 driving one of his old 83 Purex-sponsored Fords.

In 2006, the International Kart Federation established the Lake Speed Achievement of Excellence karting award for those who show great sportsmanship, achievement, and professional appearance in the series. Also, in 2010 Speed was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

Today, the 65 year old Lake Speed lives in Kannapolis, North Carolina with his wife Ricé while still tinkering with his karts. Speed also serves as the Chairman of the Board for the Motor Racing Outreach, which is a Christian Ministry that travels with NASCAR to be an option for worship on weekends they are away from their home church.

Mississippi Hall of Fame - Lake Speed

Lake Speed - Wikipedia

Lake Speed Career Stats

Where Are They Now? - Lake Speed