From Over the Wall to Behind the Wheel
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Every young racing fan dreams of one day being in NASCAR¿s Victory Lane - the champagne spraying, the fists pumping, the excitement of winning a race at one of the top levels.
Thursday Thunder driver Todd ¿Catfish¿ Gulledge has been there.
Gulledge was an over-the-wall pit crew member for Phoenix Racing when the team won the 1999 Daytona/NAPA 300 with the No. 1 Bob Evans car and driver Randy LaJoie.
¿You get a ring when you win,¿ Gulledge said. ¿They¿re really heavy, so I can¿t wear it all the time, but it means more to me than almost anything.¿
While the ring itself means a lot to Gulledge, the memories it brings mean more.
¿I remember we didn¿t quite get to celebrate like we wanted because Casey Atwood had just flipped down the frontstretch and totally destroyed his car,¿ Gulledge said. ¿We were all good friends with that team, so we were worried. But the win was still about the best thing I¿ve ever been a part of, and going to victory lane was definitely the highlight of my time in the Busch series.¿
Even with his background as a crew member, just a few years ago if someone had told Gulledge he would soon be racing a Legends car in Thursday Thunder at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he would have told them they were totally off track.
Growing up, Gulledge thought he was headed for a career in music, not racing.
¿My granddad was a pastor and my grandfather and my dad were always into music, so it was really what I always knew I wanted to do,¿ Gulledge said.
He took up playing the bass guitar and started Clay-Covered Songs, a contemporary Christian band often compared to Third Day. The band still plays at venues across the nation, including an upcoming gig in Wildwood, N.J.
Gulledge also knew he was interested in the airline industry, and his job with Delta/Southeast Airlines played into that. What Gulledge never expected he¿d be doing, however, was piloting a racecar.
In the mid-90s, he began attending races at a go-kart track in Panama City Beach, Fla., and soon found himself dedicating his weekends to Phoenix Racing and their Busch series team.
¿The way I got into racing just kind of happened,¿ he said. ¿It was a fast series of meeting the right people at the right time.¿
Watching races from pit road, it didn¿t take long for Gulledge to realize he wanted to be more involved in racing than just changing tires. He wanted to drive.
Gulledge bought his Legends car last season, much to the chagrin of his wife and father-in-law, Billy Hendrix.
¿They thought it was a bad idea I was going racing,¿ Gulledge said. ¿They got used to the idea, though, and I took Billy to a Thursday Thunder. Before the weekend was over he had a car. He raced the next week.¿
Since both Hendrix and Gulledge found themselves racing in the Chargers division of Thursday Thunder, they decided it was time to dedicate a space to working on their cars. Hendrix¿s father was a racer in the 1950s and 60s, and the pair renovated his old shop and moved their racing operations in.
Gulledge and Hendrix compete in the Chargers division of Thursday Thunder, which continues every Thursday night through Aug. 7 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets are just $5 for adults, $1 for ages 6-11 and children under 6 are free. Call the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at 770-946-4211 for more information.