Stanley family stays in quarter-midget business despite loss

Like most racing families, the Stanleys of Concord have experienced the joys and the sorrows that a life in motorsports brings.

In 2011, Ryan Stanley celebrated his daughter Katlyn’s USAC .25 series national championship. It was a special moment that came 17 years after Stanley lost his brother, Robbie Stanley, who died in a May 1994 USAC Sprint car race in Winchester, Ind.

Robbie Stanley was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2005. When the fatal accident occurred, he was en route to his fourth title and was attempting to launch a NASCAR career.

“Her championship meant a lot to me because my brother was a three-time national Sprint car champion for USAC,” Ryan Stanley said about his daughter’s win, who raced until she was 14. Katlyn Stanley is now 17 and a junior at J.M. Robinson High School.

“It meant a lot to me to put her name up on that center stage, as my brother had been (about) 20 years earlier.”

It also was a return to racing’s sweeter times for a family whose name has long been synonymous with quarter-midget racing.

Ryan Stanley’s father, Ron, started a quarter-midget building company in Brownsburg, Ind., in 1976. His first customers included five-time quarter-midget champion and ARCA title holder Andy Hillenburg, as well as John Bickford, stepfather of four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon.

While Robbie Stanley began pursuing a Busch Series (now Nationwide) opportunity with team owner John Linville, his father decided in early 1994 to relocate his business to Concord. Two months after his brother died, Ryan Stanley moved to North Carolina.

It was then that the father-son team decided to again focus on building quarter-midget cars.

“I mean, everything we did when we got up in the morning (before Robbie Stanley’s death) was what to do to try to make my brother make it in big-time auto racing. And then you wake up one day and that’s not there,” said the younger Stanley, who himself competed in quarter-midgets until age 13. “There’s a lot of soul searching. I had just recently gotten married, and I was at the age that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I told Dad I was ready to learn a trade, so let’s get the quarter-midget business going again. I can learn how to do it, and then I can carry on.”

Two years later, then-Charlotte Motor Speedway president and general manager H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler came knocking on their door. He hired the Stanleys to build Legend cars at Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s new business venture. They worked there for about five years before once again turning their attention to quarter-midgets.

“I had a daughter that was 6 or 7 years old, and I decided I wanted to get her into racing,” Ryan Stanley, 43, said. “I made it pretty clear to her that there was never a long-term goal to make her into a race car driver. We did it so we could spend some time together as a family.”

When the Stanleys revived the family business this time, they named the company Robbie Stanley Racing in honor of their lost loved one. They have “been hard at it” ever since.

In September 2013, the Stanleys sold the business to NASCAR driver and NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton. Today, they operate it for Burton, still under the Robbie Stanley Racing banner. Ryan Stanley, the shop manager for Jeff Burton Autosports, floats between the quarter-midget company and Burton’s late model team that fields a car for Jeff Burton’s son, Harrison. His father focuses on Robbie Stanley Racing, which builds about 100 quarter-midgets annually. The race car for children ages 5-16 takes about 40 hours to construct and is sold nationally.

Cabarrus County drivers bidding for titles

Short-track racers from Cabarrus County have taken an early lead in the chase for two titles at Hickory Motor Speedway.

Three of the top four positions in the Classic Sportsman Racing standings are held by Cabarrus County residents. Jeffrey Melton from Concord leads the standings by a slim two points over Kannapolis resident Shane Brafford. Larry Benz of Harrisburg is fourth, six points behind Melton.

Breaking up the Cabarrus County stranglehold on the division is Don Fenn from Lincolnton in third place. Fenn trails Brafford by two points and Melton by four.

In Super Trucks, Spencer Boyd from Concord holds an eight point lead over Lee Queen of Catawba.

Irvan off to fast start

Jared Irvan, son of Daytona 500 winner Ernie Irvan, has produced three top-10 finishes in four races this season in the PASS Super Late Model Touring Series South. The Midland resident’s one top-five and three top-tens have earned him a third place spot in the standings behind Tyler Church of Hickory and Cole Timm of Mooresville, respectively.