Upstate man competes for 50 years in go-kart racing
Junior Neal holds a photo of the race car he drove when he won in Daytona. (File/FOX Carolina)
A photo of Junior Neal driving the go kart he broke the world speed record in. (Courtesy Junior Neal)
GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) -
Race fans love speed and racers love going fast, especially for one Upstate competitor who once held a world speed record driving a go-kart.
Greenville man and racer, 78-year-old Junior Neal, said he has no plans of slowing down as he spent most of his life behind the wheel. The start of his historic racing career started more than 50 years ago with a crash.
"My brother bought his kid a go-kart, it's Christmas Day, and we went to the parking lot and was riding," Neal said. "I got on the kart and thought I was good. I spun it out, almost broke my leg, tore the go-kart up, so I had to buy it."
Neal went on to build and race go-karts in competitions across the country and the world. With his brother as mechanic, he raced in Russia and the Philippines, and won a number of races in the United States, including kart racing's biggest race at Daytona in 1999 when he was 65 years old.
Neal also pushed karting to new limits when he set what was then the world speed record in 1973, reaching 147 mph at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"Everybody in the stands stood up. I think it looked like a rocket," Neal said. "As small as it was and as fast, it surprised a lot of people."
In 1990, Neal was inducted into the World Karting Association's Hall of Fame, but unlike most hall of famers, his racing days were far from over.
At age 78, Neal is still racing and winning. He won three races in 2012.
In his time with the sport, Neal said he has seen a lot of change and a lot of fellow kart racers go on to have success - including racers like Danica Patrick, Ricky Rudd, Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray.
Neal is a brick mason by trade, and said while his success hasn't come with much fame or money, it brought him unforgettable memories and even the love of his life.
"I met so many nice people, people who helped each other," Neal said. "That's how I met my wife. I was racing in Ohio. I told her a few tales, and she believed them."
Neal said he hopes to keep racing for a few more years, and when he is done, he wants the pictures to tell the story of a racer who did not let time or anything else slow him down.
"I hope I gave something back to karting, but I think I set a mark especially at my age," Neal said.
He said there are thousands of kart racers across the country and world, however there are only 86 members in the hall of fame in Charlotte.
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