There’s nothing like your first car. You never forget it.
How it feels when you slump down into the seat and turn the ignition key.
Cruising down the road with a big grin, checking out the scenery.
John Curtis Jr. of Hermon vividly remembers his first car.
“It was a 1987 Camaro. It was a really nice car,” he recalled.
He left it in his driveway as he boarded the bus to Hermon High School.
When he got home, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
“My father had stripped the whole car,” said John Jr. “The seats and the glass were out of it.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’”
His father was building him a race car.
“You should have seen the look on his face when he got off the bus,” laughed John Sr. “I wanted him to go racing. I had a lot of fun racing and I knew he would.
“Then he said to me, ‘Mom’s gonna kill us,’” John Sr. said.
John Curtis Jr. wound up racing the Camaro in the Tiger division at Hermon’s Speedway 95 and struggled early.
“I was really nervous the first time I raced. My legs were shaking,” said Curtis Jr., who admits to still getting nervous.
But he improved over the course of the season, actually won a few races and was hooked. The 40-year-old driver is now experiencing success at Speedway 95, but it was a long road to get there.
Curtis Jr. won several races over the years in four different classes but he never won a points championship. He took six years off from racing when his children, Mason and Meah, were young. He didn’t have the time or the money to race.
But, five years ago, his cousin, Joe Pinkham, wanted to get involved in racing and bought him a Late Model car. He and his B and S Scrap Recycling business in Hudson sponsor Curtis.
Curtis Jr. struggled for a couple of years and admits, “I didn’t think I had the talent.”
But everything changed two years ago when he began working with veteran racer Scott Modery, who is also from Hermon.
Curtis Jr. finished off the 2015 season by winning a 150-lap Late Model race and he has followed that up by winning the first two races this season.
He is targeting his first points title.
“Once I hooked up with Scott, everything has been straight ahead. He has gotten the car to where I can drive it [successfully] now. He is amazing. I can’t say enough about him,” Curtis Jr. said.
“John took us in. My son Ryan and I didn’t have a ride. Things didn’t work out for us, so we felt it was in our best interest to move forward and help a friend who had all the tools and all the equipment,” said Modery, who is his crew chief when he isn’t racing against him.
“His crew just didn’t have the seat time to apply the setups to his likes and needs. We wanted to get him comfortable and confident,” said Modery. “His car wasn’t far off. It just needed to be tweaked a little.”
In addition to the Moderys, Curtis’ father and his friend Justin Byers also work on the car on a regular basis.
“The Moderys go above and beyond what you would normally do for most people,” said John Curtis Sr.
Winning the 150-lapper gave Curtis Jr. a big lift.
“That was unbelievable,” said Curtis Jr. “I started in the back. I drove my way to the front but got spun out and had to go all the way to the back. But I came back to win it.
“My guys put an awesome car under me and it has kept getting better,” said Curtis Jr., who works at Crescent Lumber in Stillwater.
Curtis Jr. said confidence is “huge” in racing and he has it now.
“He has learned to leave his car alone … to accept things the way they are and not try to over-adjust it,” said Modery.
Curtis is having the time of his life.
“I’m 40 years old but I feel like I’m 20 right now,” he said.
He had never won two races in a row and had never had a start like this season.
“I owe everything to my crew,” he said.
He enjoys all aspects of racing.
“I like getting together with a bunch of buddies on the weekend, hanging out and having a good time. Everybody wants to win, but even if we don’t, we still have a good time. And there is nothing like having a good-handling car,” said Curtis. “I enjoy passing other guys fair. I’m a clean driver. I don’t bump and slam. I got that from Deane Smart.”
Smart, from Bradley, is a longtime Late Model racer.
“John has come a long ways in the past two years,” said Smart. “He has the best handling car at the track. He looks like he is out there by himself.”
Curtis said he doesn’t have anything special on his car.
His car has a Ford Fusion body, a Hamke chassis and a Crate Motor.
“It’s an old conventional set-up,” said Curtis Jr., who will look for his third straight win on Saturday night, June 11. Monster Jam is occupying Speedway 95 this weekend.
Curtis said after running for the points championship this season, he may “slow down a little bit next year.
“I’ll do the bigger races like the Coastal 200 [at Wiscasset Speedway],” said Curtis Jr.
He isn’t interested in joining a touring series like the Pro All-Stars Series.
“Speedway 95 is close for me,” said Curtis, who wants to spend time with his kids.
His son has driven go-karts and John Jr. called him an “unbelievable driver.”
He expects his son to become a Speedway 95 racer in the near future.
So when Mason Curtis gets his first car, he may not want to leave it in his father or grandfather’s driveway.