ABINGDON, Va. – Cody McMahan attended his first race at age 4, competed in his first event at age 12, and tackled fearsome Talladega Superspeedway in 2013.
Now, the 27-year-old Chilhowie native is hoping to get back in the game.
“I have a passion for the sport,” McMahan said
McMahan was able to nourish that passion on Saturday, June 22. Driving for the North Carolina-based Beaver Motorsports team, McMahan made his NASCAR Truck series debut at Gateway Motorsports Park in sun-baked Madison, Illinois.
“We faced some challenges, but it was good to be in that environment,” McMahan said. “My goal is to compete at the highest level of NASCAR, and I realize that takes determination.”
So how determined is McMahan?
Consider the hurdles and headaches he faced before and during his Gateway adventure.
McMahan arrived at the Beaver Motorsports on Thursday morning of race weekend, then spent the day thrashing to get his Chevrolet truck in condition.
After having to swap the race trailer, McMahan left Shelby, North Carolina, at 10:30 Thursday night for a 12-hour journey straight to the track with crew member Jon Pittman and crew chief Jerry Kennedy.
“It took a while to get there, but we split up the driving duties and made the best of it,” McMahan said
Following a quick meal at a truck stop, McMahan endured the tedious NASCAR inspection process. He was able to make some practice laps in near-100 degree heat before a thunderstorm swept into the area and eventually wiped out qualifying.
“It was pretty intense, especially with that weather, but I knew we had to keep digging,” McMahan said.
During Saturday’s practice, McMahan faced a power steering issue with his truck. Once he overcame a couple more hurdles, McMahan started in the No. 31 spot.
That’s when the fun factor kicked in.
“We were turning some pretty good laps and making some passes,” McMahan said. “Things felt good aero-wise and we moved up to the No. 26 spot before something failed in the right front and we made contact with the wall.”
McMahan completed 32 of the scheduled 160 laps, finishing 29th.
“Considering that I hadn’t really raced anything in three years, things went good,” McMahan said. “We were able to run some decent laps and valuable experience. And it’s always nice to get exposure on national TV, even though the announcers pronounced my last name wrong by saying McMahon.”
Since 2011, McMahan has been managed by former NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Eric McClure.
According to McClure, his driver has the intangibles necessary for success in motorsports.
“My favorite thing with Cody is his work ethic,” McClure said. “He listens and he’s trying so hard to make an opportunity. Cody reminds me a lot of myself.”
McClure, who competed in 288 Xfinity races from 2003-2016, fielded a car for McMahan in the Charger division at Lonesome Pine Raceway in 2011. After winning four races and rookie of the year title, McMahan gradually advanced to the CARS Pro Cup and ARCA Series where he finished 12th at Talladega.
“It’s so hard to get an opportunity in one of the top three levels of the sport and Cody has been out of the seat for a long time,” McClure said. “Our goal for Cody has been his [NASCAR] track approvals, and now he’s approved to run on a layout of up to 1.5 miles.”
McClure came away impressed with how McMahan navigated his way through the Gateway experience.
“To see the effort Cody has put in, and running as well as he did given the situation, I’m really proud of how far Cody has come,” McClure said. “When Clifford Turner and I put Cody in a Late Model car in 2011, we were able to see the talent he had. He just needed an opportunity.”
If McMahan could write the script, that next opportunity would come in the Aug. 15 UNOH 200 Truck race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“That’s what I’ve got my sights on,” McMahan said. “We just have to get the finances.”
McMahan has actually come close to running the BMS truck race in recent years. In 2016, he attempted to qualify in an entry owned by regular driver Jennifer Jo Cobb but failed to make the race because of points.
“And we were close to putting something together for Bristol last year,” McMahan said. “That’s kind of been my story for the last few years. It’s been tough, but I’ve just got to keep digging.”
Another chapter of the Gateway adventure offers insight into the perseverance of McMahan.
“The deal to run that race was a last-minute thing, and I never thought about my helmet not passing inspection,” McMahan said. “We had a run around the pits to see if anyone had a spare helmet.”
The first stop was at the hauler of popular driver and eventual race-winner Ross Chastain.
“I didn’t really know Ross, but we talked and he sent me over to see [driver] Jesse Little,” McMahan said.
The 22-year-old Little, son of former Cup racer and current NASCAR managing director for technical inspection and officiating Chad Little, came through with a helmet and some friendly advice.
“We kind of knew going into the weekend that our main goal was just to get seat time and run laps, but everyone was super nice to me,” McMahan said.
Few NASCAR fans ever hear the behind the curtain struggles of independent and underfunded teams. McMahan said the stress and long nights are just part of realizing his dream that began at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Virginia.
Ken McMahan, Cody’s grandfather, was one of the headliners at the half-mile dirt track from 1972-2004, winning multiple track championships.
“I had my own team shirt and I’d follow my grandfather around in the pits,” said Cody, a former quarterback for the Chilhowie Warriors. “We built a car for the Hornets division at Wythe when I was 12 and I loved it.
“My grandfather, father, mom and sister have all been big supporters of my career. A lot of times, we had to struggle just to get enough money to get to the track but we always did the best we could.”
While the obstacles to enter the top levels of NASCAR are higher than ever, McMahan said his passion still burns strong.
“Waiting to get my chance has been hard, but I’m just trying to keep a positive mindset and do everything I can to be ready when that opportunity comes,” said McMahan, who works full time as an automotive technician.
“Racing is a tradition in my family. I’ve had so much help to get this far, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep that tradition going.”