At Southern Illinois Raceway, racing is a family affair


Second-generation racer Peyton Walker, 12, of Paducah, Kentucky, sits on his car awaiting the start of hot-laps Saturday, May 6, 2017, at the Southern Illinois Raceway in Marion. “I like to go fast,” Walker said. West Frankfort resident Kevin Russell, a second-generation racer and father of sportsman class series feature race winner Matthew Russell also attended the event. “[We] enjoy the competition of it,” Russell said. “It brings the family together … teaches the kids a lot.” (William Cooley | @Wcooley1980)

By Joe Mclaughlin

Andy Bishop was bitten by the racing bug at four years old after driving his first go-kart.

From that moment on, he said he knew he wanted to be a racer like his father and grandfather before him. The Bishop family of Harrisburg is one of many racing dynasties at the Southern Illinois Raceway in Marion.

Though these families aren’t racing on television or endorsing products, they have been writing legacies of their own; they aren’t as well known, but they’re just as enamored with the sport.


Even though racing is a dangerous pastime, and the 20-year-old Bishop has been in his fair share of accidents, he said he doesn’t let fear consume him.

“When you go through the gate and pull the straps down, it sort of goes away,” Andy said.

Jimmy Stearns, a 53-year-old from Carbondale, agreed, and said the risks of the sport don’t bother him. Over the years, Stearns has also been involved in accidents, including one that resulted in emergency surgery to repair his spleen.

“I could die breaking my neck stepping out of the shower. If I’m going to go, why not this way?” said Stearns, who has been racing since 1995.

The Stearns family started their racing legacy by building a race car. Ed Stearns, Jimmy’s father, said he and his father built a car in 1965 for another man to race. The next year, the pair built a car for Ed to race himself. Over the years, Ed has competed on tracks in Illinois, Missouri and Indiana, among others.

Collin Wece, a senior studying aviation technologies, is Ed’s grandson and Jimmy’s nephew; he is the third generation of Stearns racers.

Coming from a long line of drivers, one might expect the latest member of the driving dynasty to feel immense pressure, but Wece says it’s all good fun.


“We joke around with each other about [the results],” Wece said.

Though Ed and Jimmy know danger is inherent to the sport, the two try to focus on the thrill.

“[The danger] is for mom and grandma to worry about,” Ed said.

Kylee Griffitts, a 17-year-old from Nason, raced for the first time Saturday night as one of the few women on the track.

Griffitts is following in the footsteps of her father Russell.

Russell said showing his daughter the ropes of racing brought the two closer together. A talented driver in his own right, Russell stepped away from racing to care for Kylee when she was born.

“I was her only resource,” Russell said.

Last year, Kylee told her father that she wanted to learn to race. The bright orange racecar Kylee drives was torn down to the frame and rebuilt by the pair.

Racing with her dad, Kylee said, has given them a “bond that is unbreakable.”

Staff writer Joe McLaughlin can be reached at or on Twitter at @jmcl_de.

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