Cabarrus

Legends cars race for $1 million

Clay Hair has been racing Legends cars for 15 years and has the most victories in the history of Charlotte Motor Speedway's Summer Shootout Series.

If there were an official tally, he might be the all-time-winningest Legends car driver in the country.

For all the victory lanes Hair has drove down, none has ever produced a payout of more than hundreds of dollars. That could change this week.

Hair, a 10-year Mount Pleasant resident, will compete in the speedway's first Legends Million races. The event is drawing drivers from all over the country and beyond and has a total $1 million purse.

Wishing to build the racing division beyond the Summer Shootout Series, the speedway is banking on the appeal of a top prize of $250,000. Smaller payouts to those finishing lower in the standings - for example, $10,000 for 30th place - are still much greater than Legends car drivers' usual winnings.

Through 1994, Hair had a successful drag racing career. Competing in the International Hot Rod Association, he drove a modified eliminator car (which resembles a stock car) to a 1993 world championship.

In 1994, Hair was named the IHRA's Sportsman of the Year. The next year, he said, Charlotte radio personalities John Boy and Billy talked him into buying a Legends car.

"When I bought my Legends car, I lived in Spartanburg," Hair said. "I lived out of my pickup truck and trailer for a while and came up here and started racing. I was told if you could win a race at Charlotte, you could win anywhere in the world, and it held true.

"I came up here, started winning in the Charlotte area and started traveling all over the United States. I used to ... race for $500 on a Friday night in Concord, then go to Georgia and race for $250. I've borrowed money to get in the gate."

Already established as a top-notch Legends car driver, Hair moved to Mount Pleasant in 2000 and continued to develop his own Legends car setup business. He would prepare his own car and those of some of his competitors.

Now 51, Hair races primarily in the Masters Division at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is for drivers older than 40. Through June 29, he had accumulated 45 Summer Shootout victories during his career. He won the division's first three races this season and placed third in the fourth.

In January, when Hair heard the speedway was going to give away $1 million at a summer race, like many other drivers he thought it was just a rumor. Now that it's come to fruition, he said, he will approach the Legends Million "just like any other race."

"I've raced here so long, I know about every pebble on the (Charlotte) track," Hair said. "I know what the car is supposed to feel like, and this car has always been about finesse."

A five-time national points champion, Hair decided not to chase a season points title this year for the first time in 15 years. Winning a points championship is significant, given more than 300 drivers are competing in this season's U.S. Legends Masters division standings.

Hair said he is dabbling in drag racing again. Since the zMax Dragway opened in Concord in 2008, Hair said, he's been assisting the team of friend Doug Herbert, the famed hotrod driver.

Hair and his family have thrown their support behind Herbert's BRAKES charity, a safe driving education program, which Herbert developed after his two sons were killed in an automobile accident in 2008.

While many drivers are dreaming about what they would buy with the Legends Million winnings, much like a lottery winner, Hair said if he won the A-Main feature race he would give at least some of the $250,000 to BRAKES.

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