Competitive Compton Confident

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Stacy Compton literally put everything he owned into making a successful go of his career in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series five years ago.

At Martinsville Speedway in 1996, Compton made one a huge sacrifice to make a race when he mortgaged his Virginia home to have enough money to attempt to qualify for his first Winston Cup race. He shocked many, including himself, when he qualified ninth behind the late seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.

The 33 year-old Hurt, Va., native was biding his time and racing on various short tracks before the idea came about to try to race at NASCAR’s top level.

“I was running Late Models and a bunch of guys from Lynchburg (Va.) asked what it would take to get me to the next level,” Compton said. “We decided I needed to get in front of the people who could make it happen. The next thing I know they’re calling me to say they've bought a car and a race team. I thought they meant a Late Model team, but they had bought out a Winston Cup team.”

His friends had found a team, but it was Compton’s role to provide the financing to get the operation off the ground.

“I mortgaged my home, the body shop I owned and several pieces of property I owned to get into the ride,” Compton said. “It was a big gamble. Luckily, I qualified ninth. If I hadn’t made the show, my entire life would have been different. I’d probably be working in the body shop again, and I’d probably have a different house.”

Slowly but surely, Compton has become one of the young drivers many see as having a great future in the sport. He’s in his second year as the driver of the No. 92 Melling Racing Dodge, and making slow and steady steps up one of the toughest ladders in the sport of auto racing. It’s been evident this season Compton’s dedication hasn’t been lost on his fellow competitors.

“I can see a big difference between this year and last season,” Compton said. “This year people will race with me, last year they wouldn’t. I don’t think people are too nervous racing beside me anymore, which makes a big difference, and that just comes with time. Last year, people didn’t know whether they could race with me or not because they didn’t know if I was a loose cannon or not.

“As the time has passed on, I feel like people have realized I’m not a weapon and I’ll race pretty hard with them. You gain respect in several different ways, and we have gained some respect. Last year people would see that yellow rookie stripe on our bumper and not want to race with us. This year they’ve worked a lot better with us, but we’ve had a lot better car this season as well.”

Compton and the Melling team started the 2001 season off by qualifying second for the season-opening Daytona 500, something that shocked many of the multi-car team owners in the series. Since Daytona, however, the No. 92 team has struggled and heads into Sunday’s Virginia 500 from Martinsville Speedway sitting 29th in the Winston Cup points standings.

“We’ve had a couple of high points, but right now there are more low points,” Compton said. “The results don’t show it, but we’ve raced good at every track we’ve been and last year we weren’t able to do that. I’m disappointed with our finishes and where we’re at in the points, but all the guys on this team have done a good job and on down the road it’s going to make a big difference.

“I feel like we’re good, but as the year goes along we’re going to get better. We’re still learning what these Dodge’s need, and that’s going to take a little time.”

Compton agrees that part of his team’s struggles this year have been the result of an off-season switch from Ford to Dodge.

“We’re still learning it, and when we get back to these places like Darlington and Atlanta for the second time we’re going to be a lot better,” Compton said. “As the race goes on, we’re finding out what these cars need, but a lot of the times finding it out then is too late. We’ve adapted pretty well, and there are still a couple of teams like Ward Burton that are still struggling with the new Dodge, but then you look at it and see that (his Bill Davis Racing teammate of) Dave Blaney isn’t struggling.

“It just takes time. Sometime we can be a little too set in our ways and gone off the notes we’ve used in the past, and we’re finding out that doesn’t always work. I feel like the team is turning the corner because we’ve been getting a lot better.”

“People are looking at this team and seeing that we’re one of the few single car teams that’s out there who can compete with them. On occasion, we’re running with those guys up front. We’re certainly not doing it every week, but we’re a lot more consistent than we were last year. We don’t have a thing to be ashamed of because it’s impossible to compete against these multi-car teams now.”

When asked what’s the one goal he’d like to reach this season, Compton says it would have to be getting the chance to visit victory lane for the first time.

“We want to win a race, just like everybody else in this business,” Compton said. “But we’ve got a little ways to go before we get to that point. We need to be a consistent top-10 car before we can say we’re going to go out and win the race this weekend.

“Right now, we need to be a top-20 car and once we get to that level, then we’ll worry about getting a top-15 or a top-10 car. We need to take small steps, but if there were anybody on this team that didn’t think we’d win a race we wouldn’t be here. On any given Sunday, anybody can win. That’s how competitive this sport is.”

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