Chapel Hill: Sports

Auto Racing: Mike Chambers looking for a breakout year

Chambers says he’s got his 27 car ‘just about right,’ although the tweaking continues week to week, race to race as he looks for that elusive first win.
Chambers says he’s got his 27 car ‘just about right,’ although the tweaking continues week to week, race to race as he looks for that elusive first win. Thomas Lee

Leo Durocher supposedly once said “Nice guys finish last.”

What the famed National League manager really said was “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.”

That might be closer to the truth.

And that’s one reason Mike Chambers can be happy with his second-place finish last week in the Sherry Love Johnson Memorial race for Late Model Stock cars. A 36-year-old native of Person County, Chambers is universally regarded as a “nice guy” by folks around the Orange County Speedway, and he’s doing a lot better than seventh this year.

“I’m like anyone else. I’d like to win,” Chambers said. “But it was cool last week just being up there at the front and being close enough at the end to see the winner.”

After years of running in Rougemont, Chamber’s previous best was a third place last year. He also won the track’s Sportsmanship Award in 2013, which says more about him than his standing in the points race.

He operates Chambers Automotive outside of Timberlake, on U.S. Highway 501 at the Durham-Person County line, located right next door to the Country Kitchen, which is run by his mother.

Chambers spends more time working on other drivers’ cars than his own. He does some maintenance on regular street vehicles, but admits to not liking that very much. He prefers tinkering with the engines and frames of cars of people like Pure Stock driver Jared Gillis, Street Stock driver Richard Hayden, Limited Late Model driver Chris Henderson, former Limited Late Model driver Thomas Chappell and his own sister, Tracey Chambers.

Maybe it’s Durocher’s Curse, or more likely that Chambers is just a fine mechanic, but those drivers have all finished higher in their divisions than he has.

Chambers started in go-carts when he was just 15, and has stayed around cars ever since, encouraged by his dad, who also was racing mechanic.

“He tried racing once and decided right away that it was too crazy for him,” Chambers said. “You’ve got to be passionate about this sport to stay in it, and I’ve been around it my whole life.”

Chambers has spent 14 years racing Limiteds and Late Models, occasionally taking a car north to tracks like Martinsville but mostly staying at Rougemont.

He usually finished in the top 10 when he raced, but rarely cracked the top five. In 2011, he earned a third place in one race, but still ended up in 12th place in the points standings. (His sister, meanwhile, took fourth place in the Late Model standings.)

“He has raced OCS for a very long time,” track photographer Thomas Lee said. “This seems to be a breakout year for Chambers.”

Chambers agrees.

“Things seem to be coming around,” he said. It’s mostly little things, but we seem to be getting to the point where we’ve got the car running right.”

The only thing that would make Chambers happier than a win in this Saturday’s Late Model race at Orange County Speedway would be to have a few more people there to see it.

“You always want more fans to support the track,” he said. “Watching on TV is just not the same. It’s a completely new experience.

“And if you’ve never been to a short-track race, you need to check it out. They’re a lot more fun than places like Charlotte or Martinsville. If you come out once, you’ll want to come back.”