By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Keith Bills shares a lot in common with his dad, Eslie.
They’re both outstanding racers at Beckley Motorsports Park. Both have won a lot of races and are fan and driver favorites.
Keith, 40, even looks a lot like his dad.
But there the comparisons end. The Fayette County natives’ driving styles are miles apart.
Eslie barrels around curves; Keith is smooth and controlled.
Just ask them.
“Dad slings her in there about the flag stand,” Keith said. “I like the momentum. I kind of ease it in and ease off. When the track is tacky or fast, he’s the man. But when it’s slicked off, I do a lot better.”
He’ll get no argument from Eslie.
“He doesn’t drive like his daddy does. I’m sideways down at the bottom, and he’s Mr. Smooth up at the top,” Eslie, 65, agreed. “Tracks aren’t like they used to be. You have to learn to finesse a car now, and he’s very good at that.”
Keith began soaking in racing and the atmosphere at Beckley when he was a toddler.
“Keith used to come and watch me here (at BMP). When he was 2, he’d bring his little cars and go play up in the stands. I (later) built him and his sister both a race car. Street stock cars. I did it, because I wanted them to race, and they wanted to race.”
“I’ve been at the race track about every weekend for the last 38 years of my life,” Keith said. “Back when I started, we weren’t allowed to race until we were 16, but I got away with running when I was 15 for a few months.”
He stayed with it, and over the years he won six track championships — one in every class he’s competed in but one.
Ironically, that was in Late Models — the same class Eslie competes in.
“I loved running against Dad, but it seemed every time I was running good, he’d have problems, or if he was running good, I was having problems,” Keith said. “We only finished 10 races together. Once we were running 1st and 2nd, neither of us finished the race.”
He currently drives a Modified car and loves it. Last week he finished fifth in the feature race at BMP. The previous week he was the winner.
“Modifieds have almost the power of the Late Models, but they these little, bitty tires and it’s like trying to hold on to a bucking bronco out there.
“(Two weeks ago) the car was absolutely perfect. I was just holding on. Dad did my motor in the middle of last year and since then I’ve won seven of 11 races. That motor is awesome.”
Bills lives in Hurricane and drives 2 1/2 hours each Friday from his job in Ironton, Ohio.
Like his dad, he doesn’t have a lot of money to put into racing. He makes clear it’s a hobby, but it’s one he enjoys tremendously.
“We don’t have the time or money to throw into it like a lot of guys, but we have so much experience it makes up for it,” Bills said. “We still give them a hard way to go when we’re on the track.
“I like playing the role of underdog, and it really helps that I have a 5-year-old car, and I tow with a $5,000 racing rig while the other guys are pulling in with hundred-grand rigs and 2013 cars.
“I’m still able to beat them, every now and then, and that gives me even more of a sense of accomplishment.”
Bills needs six wins to reach the 100 career victory plateau.
He’ll have fun getting there.
“It used to be the speed and the thrill of going fast, but now it’s purely the competition. I think if we were going 20 miles per hour, I’d still love it — as long as everyone else was going 19.”
n n n
The Fastrak Racing Series Mike Faykus Sr. Memorial Race is set for Friday at BMP.
Payouts are $2,000 to win and $250 to start.
Other races include Fastrak Pro Late Models, AMRA Modifieds, Outlaw Modifieds, Street Stocks and Hornets.
General admission is $12. Kids ages 6-10 will pay $6, while those 5 and under get in free. Pit passes are $25.
Gates will open at 4 p.m. The drivers meeting is at 6:45 p.m., with racing to follow 15 minutes later.
— E-mail: dstillwell