For a word that seems so simple and overused, it’s a word that could pertain to numerous aspects of Dean Clattenburg’s personality, life, and career. Merriam-Webster supplies eight different definitions for the word “drive” – two of these particular meanings most closely associated and influencing Clattenburg’s life. The first is simply “the act of driving”, and it is obvious that it plays in to his role as second-generation racecar driver that has tackled countless tracks and race series. “The act of driving” is something Clattenburg has performed since he was 17 years old.
The second definition, even more significant than the first, is “an impelling culturally acquired concern, interest, or longing or dynamic quality.” Drive in this case would refer to Clattenburg’s “never give up” attitude compelling him to try everything and stop at nothing to reach his ultimate dreams. Whether it had been spending innumerable days and nights of his childhood cheering his father on at the race track, realizing his desire to be a racecar driver and actually trying it, moving himself and his wife Patricia to a new country in order to pursue his career, or even performing the tedious task of working on other people’s cars to fund his own racing endeavors, Clattenburg has never let the possibility of the impossible to deter him from the path he set out to conquer – a path that led him to become a professional racecar driver.
Without drive and dedication, Clattenburg would not be in the position he is today and his countless experiences out on the track would not have existed. In order to understand the kind of drive Clattenburg possessed and still possesses, it’s necessary to be aware of his beginnings and the places that they led him too.
“I’ve grown up as a second-generation driver. My father was full tilt into racing when I was born and continued to be pretty much up until he was retired around 96 or 97,” reminisces Clattenburg. “From the beginning, I was either sleeping in the back of the pick-up truck at the race track or I was in my mom’s arms in the grandstands. Then, I was traveling with him quite a bit; of course there were seasons where I didn’t travel with him as much as I got older. Growing up, the role of family in our racing was huge and it was what it was all about it.”
Little did Clattenburg know that his early exposure to auto racing at such a young age would evolve into a passion. And although Clattenburg first acquired interests in racing as a spectator, it didn’t take long before he realized that he no longer wanted to be just another fan in the grandstands; instead, he wanted to view the race from the shield of a helmet looking to chase down the field. Looking up to his father as a role model and aspiring to get out on the track, Clattenburg knew it wouldn’t be long before he would follow in his father’s footsteps and be behind the wheel of a car.
“Just watching the competition and feeling like I could beat them [encouraged me to try racing],” admits Clattenburg. “I just had an urge to want to be out there doing it, and I enjoyed driving because I guess that’s what my dad did. That’s what I wanted to do, and it was just a natural compulsion.”
Shortly thereafter, Clattenburg was finally able to turn his first laps on four-wheels; but that didn’t mean he didn’t have any previous experience on two-wheels.
“Once I took it upon myself that I wanted to race, I actually raced motorcycles – they were motocross-type motorcycles and we studded the tires and raced them on ice – prior to racing the cars. I won a couple championships racing those and it was fun experience. I really enjoyed that.”
Nevertheless, at age 17, Clattenburg ran in his first asphalt race and it transitioned his idea of racing as a hobby to an actual career.
“I started in what you would consider a Limited Late Model and later got Rookie of the Year in that particular series. Then I moved up from the late model to an open-wheeled Modified which is comparable to like a PASS Modified or IMCA Modified.”
Dominating the competition, Clattenburg impressively walked away from Modifieds earning three consecutive championships. Not only did the success allow him to have the ultimate bragging rights, it more importantly made “Dean Clattenburg” a name that could not be denied respect. Hoping to continue his development, Clattenburg shifted his momentum to yet another race series.
“In 1992, I moved into the same kind of [race] series you [see on television] today – it was called the MASCAR series.”
It may be tempting to immediately replace the first letter of the acronym, MASCAR, with an “N” to transform it into one the most reputable, stock-car racing series in the United States, NASCAR. However, in Canada, MASCAR (Maritime Association of Stock Car racing) received a similar reputation for being a prestigious series and it was Clattenburg’s route to success. Earning himself the title “Rookie of the Year” in his first season, Clattenburg also went on to clench countless victories.
Realizing his potential to possibly race as a full-time profession, Clattenburg knew that his next move would be crucial to his development as a driver. After exploring the options, Clattenburg decided to make a huge transition. Clattenburg would leave his Canadian roots and move south to a place where people’s lives revolved around racing stock cars – North Carolina.
“The trigger [to move] was to be a professional driver. Moving from Canada into the United States to be a professional driver, there’s no working category with immigration. On the other hand, I was still aware that someone needs to pick you up or sponsor you to drive.”
“Plus, I had just married my wife Patricia – she’s my backbone and she has always supported me with the whole racing thing. We just used our move to the South as our honeymoon, “ laughed Clattenburg.
When Clattenburg set out to become a professional driver, he had already painted a picture of what he thought it meant to be a professional and he was willing to do anything to achieve it.
“It’s a lot about your paycheck. You’re working all day on a race car and you’re driving that race car and getting paid to do it,” described Clattenburg. “I consider a professional driver to be someone that gets paid to drive and that’s strictly what they’re paid to do. For me, I would’ve thought and would’ve liked to make it into one of the top three [series] like NASCAR, Busch (currently the Nationwide Series), or even the Truck series. There is more opportunity to be professional out there. On a short track level, there very few drivers that get paid to drive or get paid enough to solely live off of just that. There are those certain opportunities out there, but I was never fortunate enough to get to that. Still, the opportunities in the Northeast were a lot more limited so moving was an overall good move.”
Although Clattenburg hadn’t reached his ultimate goal with the move, immediately after the transition, he continued to stay out on the track and compete. Coming to the South, he had found a solid sponsor and traveled all over to race new competition.
“When I moved South in ‘96, I kept racing with a corporate sponsorship from GM. We went to a lot of tracks: Concord Speedway (NC), Wake County Speedway (NC), Lanier National Speedway (GA), and Kenley Speedway [located and North Carolina and currently Southern National Raceway Park]. For a few years, I ran the full points schedule season at Concord, and in 1998 I finished second in the points there. I won a 150 lap Super (Late Model) show there too which is when they had done away with the ‘Big Ten’ (Series).”
“In 2000, I ran with the Parts Pro Series and I was leading the points in that until they cancelled the series (this cancellation is comparable to the recent termination of the CRA South Series). It was kind of a bummer since we had been doing well.”
Fortunately for Clattenburg, he continued to pursue his dream and in 2001 he was offered the opportunity to race in an ASA (American Speed Association) Series race. His single experience in that ASA stock car at Concord Speedway would later come to be one of his most memorable races in his racing career.
“Motorcycles were of course fun, but I ran an ASA race, the old national series, at Concord Speedway and we had a lot of help to put it together. Being able to compete in that race was pretty much a highlight for me because that was like the highest level [I had been exposed to]. It was a televised event and it was just a pretty big deal for me. It was definitely ‘stepping up’ for me, and it was an opportunity that we were able to put together with a lot help. It just stands out to me as something that was pretty memorable.”
By 2006, Clattenburg had already been exposed to countless race series in Canada and the United States and he has excelled in all of them. At that point, Clattenburg knew that in order to perform to the best of his ability and reap the most benefits, it would be best for him to focus his time and efforts on one particular series. Luckily for him, 2006 was the inaugural race season for the PASS (Pro All Star Series) Super Late Model Series in the South, and it was the perfect opportunity for Clattenburg to get more time and experience in the driver’s seat.
“I got racing with PASS in 2006 when it was a brand new series,” describes Clattenburg. “That’s the year when I had a top-three run running on a limited schedule.”
Clattenburg scored his first-top five and third-place finish in the Orange Blossom Special 150 at Orange County Speedway (NC). Competing in six of the introductory season’s eight races, Clattenburg walked away from the season with two pleasing top-fives and even a top-ten.
“In 2007, we ran the full schedule and received another third-place finish at Orange County. We ran second in the points for basically the first half of the season, but then it was just a big, long string of bad luck. I think we ended up finishing about fifth in the points, so it didn’t turn out too bad.”
Despite running a limited season the following year in 2008, Clattenburg’s statistics continued to improve. That year, he entered the PASS Super Late Model Series with the financial support of a local business and he continued to prosper on the track.
“Ron and Linda Langley have a company – Langley Industrial Machining – and they started helping me with some PASS races and let me driver their #39 car. We started running their car and ran a very limited schedule, but we won a race at Southern National Speedway in a non-PASS event sanctioned by the track.”
Clattenburg competed in the PASS Series again with help from the Langleys in 2009, but his season came to a halt just as quickly as it started. Although the seventh race of the season for the PASS Series, the Firecracker 125 at Greenville Pickens Speedway (SC) was Clattenburg’s first race of season. Looking like he was going to take home a top-five finish in the final laps, Clattenburg ran into some unfortunate luck and ended the night with a 16th-place finish, a badly damaged car, and a slightly injured body. Needless to say, Clattenburg hinted that it would most likely be his last race of the year.
Even though Clattenburg has no definite racing plans for the future, up until this point he has always been a name closely associated with the likes of a race-track with family-heritage rooted in racing. No matter what series he has competed in or what track he has raced at, Clattenburg has always been a respected, clean driver among his fellow competitors.
“It’s flattering [to know that people respect me]. I don’t really go out to the track expecting anything like that – what you do every day is be yourself, and If I can be myself and people can appreciate that, then well I guess I had a good day,” says Clattenburg. “Of course, at the end of the day, the racing is what it’s all about, but having the respect of that many people is gratifying. To know that people appreciate what you’re doing and how you’re doing it feels good.”
The track isn’t the only place that Clattenburg is respected; since moving to North Carolina in 1996, he has worked for Hamke Race Cars and has built lasting relationships with many of the clients he has helped to build chassis for. Chassis building has always been Clattenburg’s second passion and he figures if he isn’t behind the steering wheel of a racecar, it’s just as rewarding to help someone else who is.
“I’ve talked to different drivers that kind of have a problem with [working on other people’s cars], but I personally don’t mind. I separate my job with my racing and I try to give my customers the best job I can regardless of what happens at the race. I’ve been here at Hamke since I’ve been to the South in ’96, and a lot of these customers have become my friends; I really enjoy working on their cars and watching them become successful. I can’t be out there racing 30 or 40 times a year like I want to, but having so many customers run Robert’s [Hamke] chassis, I kind of get to be a small part of what they’re doing and that definitely rewards me to see their success.”