Brandon Carpenter slipped behind the wheel of his No. B4 late model one day last week in the shop behind his Harlem home.
"It is going to get loud," he warned a pair of bystanders.
The engine roared as he pulled into the sunshine.
A few days before, Carpenter had been able to hear every nuance of that engine. He led at Gordon Park Speedway in Grovetown on Aug. 29 with five laps to go.
In his four years of racing crate late models -- so called because the engines for the cars in the class come already built to similar specifications, packaged for shipment in a crate -- Carpenter had won nearly 20 times, but never on the track he grew up racing.
He had been in contention at the dirt track numerous times. But it seemed every time he grabbed the lead, something went wrong -- a wreck, a flat tire, a stalled engine and so on.
So with the signal of five laps left, Carpenter was not the optimist.
"When I saw that, all I could think about in my head was, 'What's going to break? Something's got to happen,' " Carpenter said. "You listen to NASCAR, and they say you can hear every bolt, every nut -- that was me. Every noise in that car going around that track, I could hear."
Carpenter's car stayed together long enough to win. The victory was Carpenter's first of 2009 and came two days before his 24th birthday.
The Harlem High graduate began racing cars when he was 14. Before that, Carpenter raced horses. He competed in the 1998 National Barrel Horse Association World Championships held in Augusta.
"He got bored with the horses and we went and built a race car," said Harold Carpenter, Brandon Carpenter's father.
The shop was built in front of the barn. The two worked for three months constructing the Stock V-8 car, the class where Carpenter got his start.
Many young racers start with go-karts, but Carpenter jumped right in, after months of long nights building the car with his dad.
"At the time, I didn't have any sponsors. It was me and him," Brandon Carpenter said. "It was a couple 2-3 in the mornings when I had to be at school the next day."
Father and son did all the work on Carpenter's cars for years before a man named Denny Crowe offered to back Carpenter's jump to racing late models. Crowe bought the car, and Buschwacker Chassis built and sponsored it.
When Carpenter began working as a mechanic with Mercedes-Benz of Augusta, the company also offered its services.
"Without them, there is no this," he said, pointing to the black car with blue and pink bolts.
The sponsors and Carpenter's job have allowed Harold Carpenter to take a lesser role in his son's racing career. Carpenter said he would have had to give up racing if not for the backing of his sponsors and those who help work on the car.
Harold Carpenter suffered a heart attack in August and had bypass surgery. He is limited in how much he can help his son with the car, but his first race back as a spectator was to watch his son win for the first time at Gordon Park.
"He's done everything in his power to keep me in a car," Brandon Carpenter said. "It's starting to pay off."
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