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For most of us, our athletic dreams die a quiet death, plowed over by more talented bodies in high school or college.
All that time spent hitting baseballs in the backyard, running laps around the park or lifting weights in the gym become a footnote to the actual numbers we post on the board.
That .210 batting average, or 5.3 40-yard dash time or two-seconds=too-slow 200 IM time make the case that somebody bigger, stronger and better is headed for the pros. The rest of us say hello to the working world.
It’s tough darts, but not really hard to understand. Say all you want about dedication and hard work, some bodies simply are more physically gifted than others.
Matt Arrington, a 2000 Columbus North High School graduate, had a different experience as he entered his early 20s. He looked around at his competition in the auto racing world, and he figured he would continue to climb the ranks.
“My dream as a kid was to follow in Tony Stewart’s footsteps,” Arrington said Monday while taking his lunch break from his job as a procurement specialist for Claas Lubricants of Columbus. “I grew up my whole life thinking there was a good chance I could make it. I had never been anywhere where I wasn’t one of the guys to beat.”
Racing three-quarter midgets in 2003, Arrington finished second in the points standings. He was piling up wins after making a name for himself in the karting world until he was 16. It was only a matter of time before somebody recognized his talent and funded a ride in a higher series. It all made sense.
Two years later, he was out of racing.
“It was pretty hard,” Arrington said about walking away from the sport he loved. “My dream as a kid was to follow in Tony Stewart’s footsteps. We were running for championships. Then our funding ran out.
“I never did understand why I didn’t make it.”
He said a fair estimate was that it would cost $500 to compete in a race that offered $300 to the winner. It would cost $150 a race just for one tire.
It ate at Arrington that his dreams were being derailed by money, not because he couldn’t compete. Racing can be a cruel world.
But now, eight years after he drove on a regular basis, Arrington is making a comeback. Not with the thought of driving the NASCAR circuit someday but instead just to enjoy the heck out of his level.
With his wife, Leah, and his daughters, 10-year-old Aydan and 18-month-old Ava, Arrington moved to a new Columbus home that included a shop where he could work on race cars.
“I’ve got a nice race shop now,” he said. “And I still have the race car, which we won a lot of races with in 2003. It’s been sitting in a barn, and it hasn’t been on a track for years.”
He also noted that Leah was “the No. 1 backing I needed.”
The car is owned by Terry Minor, who owns Columbus Hose and Fittings, and he agreed to let Arrington get it back into shape. Arrington started the process by taking some pictures, which he posted online. “People started to ask me if I was going to start racing again.”
Unexpectedly, Claas Lubricants was interested in helping him get back on the track.
“They are going to be a primary sponsor,” Arrington said. “They are taking care of a lot of the expense. I was pretty surprised. It would not be possible without their support.”
Broc Burton of Renegade Custom Suspensions jumped on board as well, and Arrington began to plan for the 2013 season in the United Midget Racing Association series.
“I’m humbled by it all,” Arrington said. “I didn’t think anyone would remember me. There is so much excitement now because we’re going racing next year. That’s a great feeling.”
As many of us enjoy recreational softball or basketball or swimming, Arrington will be back on the track racing a three-quarter midget car for fun, not for potential gain in the future. The biggest difference from those other sports is that it’s a lot more expensive hobby for Arrington.
But it’s probably not surprising that Arrington has found the cure to his broken dreams in the seat of a race car.
“When I look back, I think a lot of it was personality,” he said. “I probably didn’t have the right personality to talk to the sponsors and say the right things. It’s not all about performance.”
Since he no longer has a greater motive, Arrington doesn’t need to be as outgoing as he needed to be in his early 20s. Of course, through maturity, he can handle those responsibilities now.
“It was my shyness then,” he said. “It was not something I was taught. And it was not who I was.”
In terms of talent, Arrington said it won’t take long for him to get back to speed.
“I need to work out a little bit,” Arrington said with a smile. “There are a lot of G forces pulling on your body.
“And I am sure I will have a lot of butterflies at first. But all that will go away the first time I step on the pedal.”
Arrington said he has been playing a lot of computer-simulated racing games. “I’m doing that all the time,” he said. “They are real good now.”
His 16-year-old brother, John Arrington, will be part of his team. “He didn’t get a chance to be part of it before,” Arrington said. “He loves racing.”
The worry about paying the bills will be the same (he said he needs a tire sponsor), but not the worry of trying to impress anyone.
“This level is fine,” Arrington said. “This is my NASCAR. This is where I want to be.”
Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 379-5632.
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