SHORT TRACK WORLD MOURNS CHARLIE BRADBERRY by Jeremy Troiano
Alabama Racer Touched Lives Both On And Off The Track
As we’ve all heard by now, the Short Track community lost one of its biggest and brightest stars this past weekend, when Alabama-native Charlie Bradberry was killed in a one-vehicle accident just outside of his home in Chelsea, Alabama.
One of Charlie's biggest victories was his win in the 2003 Snowball Derby.
Bradberry was a friend to many in the racing community… probably to many more than he ever realized. From the people who he touched during autograph sessions or meet-and-greets, to the racers who he helped and raced against on a week-to-week basis, Charlie was much more than a fellow racer… he was also a highly-respected friend.
Everyone will say that Charlie never met a person he didn’t like. No matter how bad of a day at the track, he was always the first to flash that sly smile and tell someone he was still going to win. Even when things were not going his way, people could never tell. Charlie was still Charlie.
There are many ways people will remember Charlie. People will be able to talk about Charlie and reminisce with his stories for hours on hours, even days on days. And they will, during Bradberry’s visitation and funeral. (Charlie’s viewing will run from 5-8pm on Monday night and his funeral will be at 2pm on Tuesday. Both will take place at Southern Heritage Funeral Home in Pelham, AL)
Some of the best ways to remember our fallen friend is to listen to those that Bradberry impacted the most; his fans, friends and fellow competitors.
JR Norris had always been close with Charlie. The two grew up in Alabama together and were considered two-thirds of the new “Alabama Gang” (along with fellow driver Josh Hamner).
JR and Charlie always seemed to follow each other. Charlie won the NASCAR Southeast Series Rookie of the Year title. So did JR. Charlie won the NASCAR Southeast Series Championship. So did JR.
“My lasting memory of Charlie will be the friendship I had with him. It is losing your best friend really,” said Norris. “I grew up with Charlie hand-in-hand at the racetrack. We raced together in go-karts at the Talladega Dirt Track when we were nine years old. We grew up racing the same things. Everything he did, I did. Everything I did, he did. We always wanted to beat each other, but we still had a friendship and wanted to hang out when we weren’t at the racetrack.
“The competitiveness in him was amazing, but he was always a gentleman away from the track. I remember there was one race last year at Montgomery. I’d moved up to North Carolina, but I came back to race at Montgomery in March. It came down to me and him running one and two. He was blocking and blocking, protecting the bottom and the top. Finally, with about five laps to go, I hit him and moved him out of the way and I ended up winning the race. When the race was over, we just laughed about it. He called me a ‘no driving whatever’ and we just laughed and shrugged it off.
“You don’t have that with another racer. And it is kind of sad to think that I won’t have that with him anymore. I’m
Charlie talks with JR Norris (right) at Pensacola.
not going to get to experience that again. We’d always talk about what it would be like to be in NASCAR together since we grew up together like we did. Now, that will never happen.”
Jason Hogan, also a graduate of the Southeast Series, was another of Bradberry’s closest competitors and friends. He tells of Charlie, even now, with a smile on his face.
“Charlie was always kind of a quiet character, but when you got him talking, he was one of those people you couldn’t get to shut up,” joked Hogan. “He was always, besides one heck of a racer, one heck of a friend to everyone he met. You never heard a bad word about Charlie and never really heard of any conflicts he had with anyone. When he did, he was just real quiet about it. All the times that me and him and JR would get together and hang out as friends are something I’m going to miss. We hung out as just friends, not racers. We were racers on the track, but when we left the track, we all went and hung out as friends. Those are times and memories that you’ll never forget.
Jason Hogan (left) called Charlie "one heck of a friend."
“He was one of the racers to beat everywhere you went. It didn’t matter if you were at Kentucky Speedway or at Birmingham or Pensacola. It didn’t matter where he went to race, he was always the guy that you had to beat each and every week. He did so much at a young age. He won the Snowball Derby and the Southeast Championship at the same year. That is a pretty tough feat to do.
“It was time that he was going to make his mark in the big three ranks of NASCAR. He was just like the rest of us; he was waiting for that once chance and that one shot.”
The Bradberry family was a tight-knit group. Brother Gary was a former NASCAR Winston Cup driver. The Bradberry name is synonymous in the short track world. Bradberry was also tight with the Hamner family, who built the engines that powered Bradberry’s cars for many years.
“I’ve known him since he was 10 or 12 years old and all he lived for was to race,” said Jeff Hamner, owner of Hamner Racing
Engines. “I’ve never seen anyone into racing like he was. He had some other interests, but nothing like racing. His drive to be a racecar driver is something that will always live with me.
“If someone came over to him before the race and tried to set a deal up with him, he’d always come back with the same line; he’d always just say ‘I just wanna race.’ That is what he’d tell them. ‘I just wanna race.’”
Bradberry loved racing. So much so, that he was working on his car late Friday night before heading back to his home in Chelsea to get ready to go to Talladega Superspeedway to walk the garage and look for a ride. It was on his trip back to his house that Bradberry fell asleep behind the wheel, drove off the road and had his accident. Bradberry was transported to UAB Hospital where he was pronounced dead during emergency surgery.
The 24-year-old was recently married to long-time girlfriend, Brandi, who is expecting the couple’s first child in February.
“It’s a huge loss, not just in the racing world, but just in the world in general. Thinking about his family; it breaks
Charlie's #78 was powered by Hamner Racing Engines, meaning he had a good relationship with the entire Hamner family.
my heart to think he recently got married and that he has a kid on the way. It tears me apart,” said Gary St. Amant.
St. Amant was a big part of Bradberry’s biggest career win, the 2003 Snowball Derby. Bradberry beat St. Amant to the line by mere feet before the two spun and wrecked after the checkered flag.
Gary St. Amant (left) congratulates Charlie after his Snowball Derby win in 2003.
“This morning, just driving down the road, I had Charlie heavy on my mind. I was just thinking about the 2003 Snowball Derby between me and him. I’d say after that race, me and Charlie became better friends. It came down to the last lap between us. I had a good run on Charlie coming off of four. He went low to put he block on me, we got together and I spun him out as we were going across the finish line. After the race, I felt bad about wrecking him. I think he felt just as bad for blocking me on the last lap. After that, I think we became much better friends. Every time we ever raced after that, we would always chat and just talk.”
Another veteran racer, one that spent even more time with Charlie than St. Amant, is also feeling the hurt of the loss of such a great person.
“I just don’t know. I don’t know how you even word what Charlie meant to people,” said Jeff Fultz, who raced with Charlie year-after-year in the Southeast Series and who finished second to Charlie in point standings in 2003. “To me, he was like one of your brothers. Take out the racing part; he was just a great friend and a great person.
“We did a lot together. We were competitors, but at the same time, we really respected each other. I just don’t know how to put it into words. He was a lot younger than me, but at the same time, we horsed around a lot and had a lot of good memories together. It is so horrifying when something like that happens in the blink of an eye. Not just for what his future might have been, but just to lose the guy he was.
“We lost someone who was very talented when it came to racing, but to me, I didn’t look at it as that as much as I looked at it as losing someone who touched us the way he did. With any person he met, Charlie was just kind. He wasn’t a mean racer. He wasn’t any of that. He was just a good guy. We lost a true friend more than we lost anything else.”
Even at the young age of 24, Charlie had a profound effect on younger racers as well. One of those was a kid that grew up around Charlie, both at the racetrack and away from it.
“I lost more than just a competitor and a friend. I looked
Charlie and Jeff Fultz (left) had a great relationship.
at him as a brother,” said 19-year-old Josh Hamner. “You can go on and on about the good times and the stories and everything, but you can never explain what he truly meant to you.
“Charlie just always wanted to race. It didn’t matter where it was or what it was. I can remember going to races and getting rained out and he’d be calling people around, trying to find somewhere else to race. He was a racer. A lot of people call themselves racers, but not many people loved it like Charlie did. Anytime you called to get a race report, no matter where it was at, the first or second question you asked was ‘where was Charlie at?’ That is why so many people knew him. He was a true racer.”
Charlie had an impact on younger racers took, like Josh Hamner (left).
17-year-old Landon Cassill might never have gotten to race with Charlie that much, but the youngster was still touched by Bradberry.
“One thing that is in my mind is IRP when I raced with the CRA cars,” said Cassill. “Charlie came up to run that race as well. That was a rarity for him to come up and run a CRA race. You see him win these big races here or there and stuff like that, but when he came to run that race it really showed his competitiveness. Every day was just business for him. He always was the fast car everywhere you went. He was on everyone’s watches everywhere you went. I remember racing door to door with him at IRP there. Even off the track, when I first met him at Nashville, he was just quiet and down to earth.
“I really respected the fact that he was a family racer too. I know where he is coming from there. All the way through my entire
racing career, I always had someone every year that I looked up to, even someone just a couple of years older than me who went out and won the big races. I remember watching a video of Charlie winning the Snowball Derby and then crashing into turn one. That was so cool to see someone go out and give it everything to win a race and do something so amazing. He was a role model. Whether you are 15 or 50, you can look up to people like that. He was setting a high standard.”
Bradberry also affected some of those that didn’t know him all that well, including both Northeast standouts Mike and Ben Rowe.
Bradberry raced door-to-door with Mike Rowe for his win earlier this year with the new PASS South Super Late Model Series. The battle really made an impression with the elder Rowe, who took the news of Bradberry’s passing hard.
“That was probably one of the best races that I’ve ever had,” said Rowe of his race with Bradberry at Florence. “It was definitely one of the most fun races that I’ve raced in. Charlie, Freddie (Query) and I swapped the lead all day long. Charlie did a good job. He came out on top, so he must have really done a good job. Looking back, I’m glad that he won. We’ll have plenty of more chances to win and he doesn’t. I was really looking forward to racing him again at the Mason-Dixon Meltdown. I knew that he was going to be there and I’ll miss him.”
Charlie shared the podium with Mike Rowe (left) in the PASS South race at Florence.
“He was such a good kid. He was a real up-and-comer. The thing that I’ll remember the most about him was his smile. He was always smiling. He had such a good smile too. That day at Florence, he was sure grinning in victory lane.”
Ben Rowe, a former PASS North Champion, got to race with Bradberry only sparingly, but he had similar reflections of Bradberry as his father Mike.
“He was one of our guys and a driver is a driver,” said Ben. “I had met him before and he had raced a few times with my father. I raced against him down at Lakeland for the last couple years. He was definitely one of the best. If you saw newspapers or the Internet, you were aware of what he’s done.
“It’s just terrible and such a loss. It was the same thing when Scott Fraser passed away. These guys were so talented and they were fun to race with. It makes you stop and think. We get out and holler at each other sometimes at the racetrack, but we are all going for the same goal.”
Charlie made his Pro Cup debut this season in the #81 Knights Racing Chevrolet.
What could have been with Charlie will always remain a mystery. Just this year, he made his debut in the Hooters Pro Cup Series, an avenue that Charlie was very interested in looking towards in the future. Indications are that Charlie could have been a big star there as well
"It's a very tough loss,” said Pro Cup racer and former Super Late Model standout Wayne Willard. “Charlie loved to race and that's all he wanted to do. He went everywhere trying to get his name out there. I'd been over to his shop and tried to help him out when I could. He's going to be missed; he was a heck of a nice guy.
“I thought about a stepping away from racing in a couple of years, and he was the guy that I wanted to replace me if that happened.”
“It seems like the great ones are always taken early, said Keith Hinkein, who crew chiefed for Charlie in his single Pro Cup race this year for Knights Racing. “He was always happy and you're never going to find a nicer kid. But when it was time to race, he was serious. He was just a great, all-around guy.
"As far as talent, if he would've got the shot, he would have made it. There's no doubt in my mind."
He is survived by his wife, Brandi Butts Bradberry, parents, Charles and Gayle Bradberry; brother, Gary Bradberry; sister-in-law, Karen Bradberry; many relatives and friends.
And even though times are hard for everyone, St. Amant might have given one of the best ways to deal with the terrible tragedy.
“He was a guy that knew what he wanted out of life and that was to be a racecar driver. He might not have made it to the level he wanted, but he was a true racecar driver.
“On one side of it, it hurts so much. On the other side of it, we all know how lucky all of us were to have known Charlie.”