One thing that can’t be said about Thomas “the Moose” Praytoris that he does not take racing, or life, seriously. The driver of the No. 9 DK-Lok Ford in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards once took snaps alongside of a famous ‘Bama QB and has worked tirelessly for charities in his home state of Alabama. Now he’s going to make his 100th career start and become the “Iron Man” of a national racing series.
“100 starts is still hard to believe, six years ago I never thought I would get one much less two but here we are. I get asked all the time what my next move is and my answer is always the same. I’ve done more than I ever thought I would get to do. I’ve raced at some of the coolest racetracks in the world with some of the best drivers, Pocono, Kansas, Salem, Toledo, Michigan the list just keeps going. I’ve dreamed about drafting at Daytona and at Talladega, now I’m a veteran as comfortable there as Mobile International Speedway.”
Road America Start
Now, the driver that once drove for Hixson Motorsports in Soddy-Daisy Tennessee, will enter the race weekend at Road America ready for his 100th ARCA Racing Series start. The journey started years before that with a legendary name in racing in the form of Andy Belmont. The longtime figure in stock-car racing said he’s proud to be part of Praytor’s racing history.
“Eight years ago, Thomas came up to our shop to work on cars when he wasn’t racing late models in Mobile,” Andy Belmont said. “He lived at the house – worked his butt of every day, in the shop, on the road – goes home to race, back and forth. You could just see the desire in this kid. I’ve enjoyed watching him continue to grow and learn about our sport and as a person. I’ll always be proud he got his first shot in one of our cars,” Andy Belmont.
The Start, behind the wheel of an ARCA Series race car, was something that Praytor cherished. The driver says that the trust from Belmont to wheel one of his cars in a race in front of his hometown fans is something that has stuck with him. Why? Because he almost didn’t make the cut!
“Mr. Andy taught me so much about racing as a profession,” Praytor said while talking about his start in racing on a national level with the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.“Then he let me take one of his cars to Mobile for the first ARCA Mobile 200. I remember we just made the field, there were 42 cars at Mobile trying to get in the race and I was the last one in 35th. Seven teams went home seems crazy now.”
Racing Hard with Legends!
After cutting his teeth in a national series with the Belmont organization,as well as with the legend – Bill Venturini, of Venturini Motorsports, the “Moose” had a career changing conversation with Chattanooga’s own Wayne Hixson of Hixson Motorsports and Crew Chief Crystal Bates. The small team racing a national schedule quickly took a liking to the young driver from Mobile Alabama.
The series of events took place while Praytor was moving from the Belmont fold to Venturini and beyond. Praytor says having a legend like Bill Venturini climbing under his car is something that will stay with him forever. In case you didn’t know –Bill Venturini is a legend to true stock car race fans – and his family touch is applied to race cars in ARCA and NASCAR every race weekend.
“I’ll never forget we were in Madison, Wisconsin and I took out one of Mr. Bills dirt cars to get it in the show, that was my only job. I made a few laps in practice and we were in the top 15. Next thing I know Mr. Bill is jacking up my car and crawling under it… by himself to make changes!”
Praytor says it was an amazing moment as his father and a legend in motorsports were working together.
“My Dad was spotting, Mr. Bill was my crew chief and crew, we were faster than a lot of other high dollar teams. Really a fun day!”
Welcome to Soddy-Daisyand Chattanooga!
The next step was working out a deal for some important upcoming races on the ARCA schedule for the next season including Talladega. Enter Soddy-Daisy resident, businessman and race team owner Wayne Hixson. He soon found a young driver living with his family for almost two years!
“After Daytona, Mr. Wayne (Wayne Hixson) called and told me he had a car and we should come and get it to get it ready for Mobile. I couldn’t believe it. We had a good run at Mobile and we were 6th in the points. After Mobile Mr. Wayne said, you know I got plenty of cars if you’ll get them going and keep them going we can run the whole thing.”
For the next two years Praytor moved in with Hixson in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee while racing and preparing cars from Hixson’s shop. His crew chief was Crystal Bates who was making headlines herself as a female crew chief for one of the top-teams in stockcar racing. Hixson says Praytor is a person he would do anything for.
“I can’t say enough good about Thomas,” Wayne Hixson said. “He basically lived with us for the 2 years while he was racing with us. He still helps me anyway he can and I would do anything in the world for him. He’s learned so much and does such a great job with what he has to work with, people don’t understand how good of a driver he is.”
Since making that first start with Hixson in Daytona Praytor has not missed an ARCA Race and is the current Ironman of the ARCA Series as he closes in on his 100th start.
“As a racer, there are just way too many people to thank for helping you get where you are but there is no doubt Wayne and Pam Hixson were my big break. They took me in when we really didn’t have anything to offer. Mr. Wayne loves to race and he has been racing for a long time. I learned so much about cars, motors and all the nuts and bolts of this business I learned in Soddy Daisy. I hope when I get to be Mr. Wayne’s age I can still get after it like he does.”
After two years under Hixon’s tutelage, Praytor moved back to Mobile where he and his family struck out on their own. In their second year of competition the team finished 5th in the Championship standings and keeps on rolling. ARCA Racing Series President Ron Drager said the Praytor story is what racing is all about – working hard and moving forward!
“Like so many other young drivers working so hard just to race weekly at their local track,” Drager said. “Thomas Praytor took an opportunity to make his ARCA debut six years ago with a very limited pathway forward. He’s forged that into his 100th career start, and is an example of perseverance and making the very most of resources and desire.”
More than Three!
When Thomas “the Moose” Praytor took to the track in the ARCA Racing Series for what was only to be three races he never imagined he would be setting an “Iron Man” style record.
“I get asked how many more, how much longer? I don’t know I was just supposed to make three races and now I’m at 100. I don’t see myself making 500 like Frank Kimmel but he probably didn’t either in 1996 (1996 was when Kimmel hit race 100).
Kent Whitaker, also known as “The Deck Chef,” is a culinary writer and cookbook author. He’s also penned Young Reader and History titles. The former winner of the Emeril Live Food Network Barbecue Contest also covers football, motor-sports, and bass fishing. Kent currently lives in East Tennessee with his wife, son, and a couple of dogs that love when he fires up the smoker or grill.