MACON — Shannon Babb didn’t grow up wanting to be a race car driver.
He spent most of his childhood in a garage. His dad Greg raced. Greg had followed in the footsteps of his uncle Rob, as had many other Babb men.
But Shannon didn’t see himself doing the same.
“I was in the garage helping my dad from the time I was able to walk,” Shannon said. “We were always working on something. But I told everyone I didn’t want to do that. I was going to find something else.”
But that’s not what happened. Babb, 45, of Moweaqua, makes his living as a late model race car driver and is known nationally as one of the top dirt track racers. Babb, known as the "Moweaqua Missile," is currently leading the DIRTcar Summer Nationals Late Model Series and is going for his fifth series title. He already owns the most wins in series history.
Babb will try to continue that success on Thursday at Macon Speedway when he races in the 38th Herald & Review 100, which he’ll be trying to win for a record sixth time.
Greg Babb raced in the very first H&R 100 in 1981, and had a third-place finish in 1990. Three years later, Shannon raced in his first H&R 100.
But Greg said while Shannon was always working on race cars with him during his teenage years, he’d heard Shannon say he didn’t want to continue the tradition, and figured he wouldn’t.
“He never said anything about changing his mind, and I never expected him to,” Greg said. “I never pushed him into it.”
Shannon had grown up driving four-wheelers and motorcycles, and knew he was a good driver by the time he got his license at 16 — “I felt confident I could beat half the people out there,” Babb said.
At that time, Greg was still racing, but had also built a modified car that Larry Rogers was driving.
“Larry wanted to get back into racing, so he was driving the car I’d built, but for one reason or another, he didn’t do well in it,” Greg said.
Greg said one night after a disappointing finish, he, Shannon and his wife Connie were driving home from a race, and Greg expressed that a change was going to have to be made.
“I said I needed to put someone in it who could make it go,” Greg said. “I remember Shannon was leaning up over the back seat and Connie said, ‘Shannon, do you think you could drive it?’ He said, ‘Sure, Mom, I can do it.’ That shocked me.”
A week later, Shannon was driving the car.
“Right off the bat he was real good,” Greg said. “I don’t like to brag on him, but he was a natural. You could tell from the beginning he was going to be good.”
The two raced together on several occasions, though Greg said he was never comfortable with it — “It always made me nervous,” he said. Greg had a welding business at the time, but a couple years later went back to over-the-road truck driving, which he still does.
That left the late model car Greg owned sitting in the garage, and Shannon started taking it to the track, and winning.
“The family kind of voted that he was going to race it, and I was not going to do it anymore,” Greg said.
Shannon said his dad’s sacrifice still means a lot to him.
“He loved to race,” Shannon said. “He gave up a lot to keep me going.”
Shannon quickly progressed from the local scene to the national, racing with the World of Outlaws series and other racing series all over the country. Greg traveled with Shannon during his younger days, and would often catch him in different places while on the road for his job.
But, at some point, that stopped. At this point, Greg doesn’t see more that three of Shannon’s races per year.
“He stays on top of it with social media and the internet,” Shannon said. “And we talk about it quite a bit. But him and Mom have a laid-back lifestyle. They let me sweat it out in the dirt and the heat.”
Greg said it’s best for both him and Shannon that he follows his son’s career from afar.
“He’s a grown-up, but he’s still my boy — it still makes me nervous to watch him out there,” Greg said. “And there’s less pressure on him if I’m not there. He won’t tell me not to come, but it’s one less thing he has to worry about.”
Greg said he on Wednesday he’s not sure if he’ll be at Thursday’s H&R 100 or not. But don’t mistake his lack of attendance for apathy.
“After a race, we’re the first people he gets ahold of after his wife,” Greg said. “He’s happy doing what he’s doing, and I’m proud of him — not just for being a great driver, but for being the young man that he is.
“He’s had opportunities to rise up into the NASCAR ranks, but that’s not what he wanted. He wanted more out of life than just racing. He’s got a great family, with a wife and two little girls. He wouldn’t give that up for NASCAR, and I think that’s great.”