No Slowing Down
Fred Hay fights the urge to slow down. His mind tells him he should. His heart tells him otherwise.
At age 71, and with an eternity of racing experience under his belt, Hay finds himself in the one sport where riding the brakes is frowned upon.
"My mind wants me to do those old man things, like staying clear of other cars," Hay says, chuckling at the thought. "Something inside of me says I don't want to go fast. But I need to.
"You know how older people slow down on the highway? That's what I fight while I'm racing."
He appears to be winning.
Hay is currently in the top five in the dwarf car points standings at Southern Oregon Speedway. The longtime Eagle Point resident trails points leader Josh King through the first two months of racing.
"He's always right there," says King, 28. "He's hilarious in the pits, always cracking jokes. He's a really great guy."
That's off the track. On it, Hay is on a mission.
"He's an aggressive driver," King says. "He's very competitive out there."
Hay has teamed with friend and crew chief Tom Haro to put out a competitive car against an average of 14 to 15 other cars every weekend at the Speedway.
"I'm the oldest one out there, but they don't let me get away with anything," Hay says. "I have to work at whipping these youngsters."
Hay has finished as high as second this year — his lowest was sixth place — and is still working toward his first victory. In the meantime, Hay is having a blast as the track's elder statesman.
"The group I race with is great," he says. "They are all very nice people. Everybody helps each other out."
Hay's family is also supportive of his return to the track.
"My daughter says I'm their hero," Hay says. "They're looking at their dad thinking if he can still do it at this age, then I can do what I want."
The racing bug wasn't ingrained in Hay. He came to it on his own.
"I was driving by the race track one day at White City and I saw this big cloud of dust," Hay recalls. "There were a bunch of guys racing around in the dirt. I thought, 'That looks like fun.' And I went from there."
Hay started racing competitively in 1962 three years after graduating from Eagle Point High. He competed in the NASCAR Winston West Series — now known as the K&N Racing Series — for several years before stepping away from the sport in 1980 to concentrate on his family.
He was an assistant service manager at Medford Motors and worked at Ford Motor Company in Seattle. Hay also drove an 18-wheeler for a living and focused on his growing family, which has since blossomed into two sons, two daughters, a pair of stepchildren and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.
His wife of 13 years, Beth, is what keeps him going these days, he says.
"I'm older than her, so she can catch me," Hay says.
The itch to race didn't leave, however, and in 2003 he had a restart.
"I just wanted to try it one more time before I got too old," says Hay, who was named the 2003 dwarf car rookie of the year at the speedway. "The kids were all grown and it was time."
It was the right move.
Hay was second at the Western States Dwarf Car Nationals last year and plans on racing in the event again this season on July 20-21 at the speedway.
When it's all said and done, Hay, who also races at Cottage Grove and at Siskiyou Speedway in Yreka, Calif., is hoping for a track championship before he calls it quits.
"I'd say I have maybe two or three years of racing left in me," Hay says. "So winning a track championship at my age, that would be a pretty big feat."
And Hay doesn't appear to be slowing down.
"I love it," he says of racing. "It's such a rush of adrenaline. When I'm driving, I feel like I'm 25."
Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 541-776-4483, or email email@example.com