Clay Purvis, 16 year old son of Jeff Purvis began is racing career at the same age as Jeff. Jeff started in car No. 15 representing his age and now Clay, who started racing when he was 15, is in car No. 15.
Driving race cars in the Purvis family started back in 1974 when 15 year old Jeff watched a car his dad, Clyde Purvis, who owned a car lot, sponsored. A guy name Chester Albright, who is a racing legend around the Clarksville track, was driving for Phoenix Motors.“I looked at him racing and said to myself, ‘heck, I can do that’!” said Jeff. And so started a lot of trips to a lot of tracks, a lot of fights and three World Dirt Racing championships. He has also been inducted into the Dirt Racing Hall of Fame.
Getting to the top wasn’t all that easy. His car was number 15 because that is how old he was when he started. And he hit a lot of walls on the way to championships.
“He wasn’t afraid of anything,” said his dad, who still owns Phoenix Motors in Clarksville, Tenn. and works everyday even though he is in his 70s. “His start wasn’t too pretty. He would hit the wall, back off and hit it again. I remember people coming up from Mississippi and they would pull an extra car. I asked them why and they laugh and say, ‘well Jeff will need one before the night is over’. And he did.
“Yes the bank and I paid a lot of bills.” he said. “But we had lots of fun.”
And I had the honor of writing the first racing stories about Jeff when I was sports editor of The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. He always had a devilish look on his face, just as if he had gotten away with something he shouldn’t have done. Later we became good friends, lived next door to each other where his two sons and my son played. My son Ben still hangs out with Clay and they attend the same school.
Clay, now 16, made his racing debut last year with a lot of practice. Yep, you guessed it. His number is 15. In fact early last year when I dipped my toe into late model crate racing, Clay and I practice on Sunday mornings together with instruction from his dad after Saturday night’s races left the track still runable. He started getting real serious this year and races every weekend at the Clarksville Speedway, the place where his daddy made his debut. Big difference is that Clay is racing a crate late model and Jeff run to the top was in one big engine late models.
How is he doing? “Pretty good for his experience,” said Jeff. “When I started I was a lot worse. It was a long time before I could make it through hot laps. I was a loaded weapon ready to hit the wall.”
Like his dad did most of his career, Clay waits until the last minute to get to the track Saturday night, Aug 25. They unload his car from a yellow rollback truck. Jeff, who has been a custom to a band of guys swarming over his car, walks from the truck and is the single pit crew person for Clay.
It’s hot, over 100 degrees. Jeff sits a bottle of water on top of the car. “Heck,” he said. “I just remember something I forgot to do.” He pulls out a tarp, throws it on the ground, then jacks up the back of the car starts sliding under it wrench in hand. Once the job was done, he grabs the water and takes a big swig.
Clay pulls on one a black race suit and puts on his helmet and crawls into the steaming cockpit. He fires the engine and with a thumps up, he heads for hot-laps.
The race is on. He drops back to fourth. Then he guns it down the straight a way. It looks as if he is going to move forward. Then early in the race, he climbs the wall just under the flag stand, almost turns over and brings the crowd to their feet and brings out a caution.
You could see Jeff thinking “He was a loaded weapon ready to hit the wall…and I have to pay more bills.”
“I just want to have fun,” Clay reflected on racing. When told that some folks thought he was better than his dad at this stage of racing, he shook it off. “Naaa,” he said with a devilish look on his face, just as if he had gotten away with something he shouldn’t have done.
Next week his car will be repaired and he’ll be back at the Clarksville track, where his dad earned his racing stripes. Ben and bunch of his friends will be there to cheer him on.