'I Still Love It' -- Washburn Still Behind the Wheel of a Late Model at Age 76
It’s been said that once a person gets hooked on racing — that the desire and love for the sport never goes away, no matter what age he/she is. Clarence Washburn of Hector, Minn., is a perfect example.
Still behind the wheel of the #3 Wissota Late Model at age 76 — an age when almost all of his generation has retired from racing — his love for the sport has never waned.
“I like the people that I’m racing with. A lot of these guys I’ve raced for years and years. A lot of them aren’t even around any more,” Washburn said from the pit area at Viking Speedway in Alexandria on Saturday. “I’m not out here to set the world on fire but I don’t wreck stuff like I did 15 years ago. I still enjoy it.”
There are very few drivers in their 70s still racing, let alone driving in the top-level division regionally like the late models. But Washburn probably isn’t like most 76-year-olds — he is plenty active and in good health and despite being “semi-retired” still drives truck for CJW Trucking and also does a little farming. Oh, and there’s the racing, too.
“I’ve always said, when my reflexes go away, then I’m going to quit,” Washburn said, “but so far I’ve got good reflexes. And I still love it.”
It was a racing career that started in 1970. He bought his first late model after nine years of racing in 1979, and drove one until 2004. That’s when he faced a health scare — he had aortic valve replacement surgery, and that sidelined him for six years. But Washburn was cleared to return in 2010 — and wasn’t ready to be done racing.
“I came back,” Washburn said, “and I’m still at it.”
Washburn’s family — which includes wife Judy, daughters Natalie and Nyla and their families have been faithful supporters of his racing career. His daughter, Natalie, and son-in-law Chuck and two grandchildren were at Viking traveled with him this past weekend to I-94 and Viking Speedways. His brother-in-law, 82, also travels along on race trips.
“It’s been a family deal from the time it started,” Washburn said.
Because of commitments with trucking in the spring and summer, the racing took a back seat for a while. He has 10 shows in this season. He had a good run on Aug. 16 at Fairmont Raceway, where he finished seventh out of 13 cars at the Tri-State Late Model series race.
“We haven’t did as much this year; the trucking side, we’ve been so busy,” Washburn said.
Washburn bought a new car for 2019 — a Trak Star Chassis out of Alabama. He practiced at I-94 Speedway on Saturday morning and got the car better, but right before the B main Saturday at Viking, the power steering acted up and he was unable to make the start.
“We’ve been fighting this one. We haven’t had good luck with it,” Washburn said. “We practiced (Saturday) morning. We felt we had it (better) and we did. Then tonight we ran into power steering problems.”
So while the valve replacement and taking six years off might have caused some drivers to walk away for good, It didn’t stop Washburn from coming back. The surgery was a success and allowed him to come back into racing.
“They said it was good for 12-14 years,” Washburn said. “That was 2004. Now they’re saying it’s probably going to outlive me.”