By DON SIMPSON
For most people in their 70’s, it would be a time in life to sit back and relax, but not for Billy Cook. This season marks 50 years of racing for this legend of the dirt track.
Billy, 76-years-old, is still racing at his home track of Cornwall Motor Speedway, where Billy got his first-ever Modified feature win in 1972.
Billy began his racing career back in 1970 when he started racing in the eight-cylinder Street Stock. He but quickly progressed to the Modified class in 1971. He continued racing Modifieds until 2011 when he transitioned into the Sportsman Class. Throughout those years, from time to time, Billy would race in the big-block Modified class or in the Late Models.
“It has been a long run of racing and, over those years, some race experiences still stick in my mind,” Billy explains. “Like the time I was asked to drive the number 53 Sprint Car at Frogtown Speedway. Something I had never done before, but thought I would give it a go. Well, I won and it was an amazing experience winning the one- and only-time racing in a Sprint Car.”
For Billy, now retired, you can find him still puttering around in his shop each day. It’s not easy to put all those years of work aside and just walk away from something you love to do. These days, however, it’s more about working on the race car than customers’ cars.
Even though Billy Cook is the oldest active driver in DIRTcar, Billy can still race with the best of them. It is simply inspiring to watch Billy each week get out on the track and race as hard as anyone out there. Thomas Cook, Billy’s grandson, knows far too well about these facts.
Thomas said, “Racing with my grandpa is a privilege that I don’t think many other people can say. I think it is really awesome and special to be out on the track with him! He has been my role model since I was young and taught me everything he knows about racing. From my first time turning a wrench, to building my own cars, he has always stood behind me and wanted to see me succeed. I have a lot of fun racing with him, exchanging thoughts, and listening to his many racing stories that could entertain you for hours! I enjoy racing with him and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
This has been a venture of a lifetime for Billy, who started out as a car owner, and then driver/owner, and through many of those years, his daughter, Julie White, witnessed Billy’s love for the sport.
Julie said, “Where do I begin? My dad loves to talk about his adventures in racing. I know that when he first started out that he owned a race car before he was the driver. Just happened that his driver didn’t show up one day and he jumped in the driver’s seat and has been there ever since. He is such a noble and humble person so he isn’t racing for the fame or the win. He races for the pure joy of being out there on the track with all the other racers. It would be wonderful to see him in the winner’s circle again but I love that he does it more for the fun of it.
“People often ask him when he’s going to quit racing and retire because they don’t understand that it’s not a job to him. It’s not something that he has to endure. Why would anyone want to give up doing something they love? Over the years, he has mentored so many young pit crews who are now racing on their own. My mother teases him that he doesn’t need to put everyone in a race car but that tends to be his way. He’d rather spread out his resources than get the best of the best for himself. He loves the sport so much and wants as many people as possible to be a part of it too. When I was maybe 4 or 5 years old, he was racing in the “Duke Stock” division, it would be Street Stock today.”
She continued, “There was a race at Cornwall Motor Speedway that night and he was working on his car in the driveway. The hood was up and I wanted to see what he was doing so he let me sit right on the edge of the hood and he gave me a screwdriver. I would tap that screwdriver around just making noise but I felt like I was actually working on the motor. He finished up and he won that night! Afterward, he said it must have been my help on the motor that made him win! I always remembered that.
“But that’s how he still is today. I help in the pits by doing what I can, I’ll change a tire, check the air pressure, tie down the car in the trailer. But he still makes me feel important and valued. That’s just how he is to everyone. If you need something at the track, he probably has it and will lend it to you even though he may not have it when he needs it. That’s just how he is and I’m so lucky to have been able to grow up watching him race.”
To many, including myself, Billy has always been the gentleman, always helping or ready to answer any questions or just to chat about racing in general. Billy is by far one of the sport’s best spokespersons.
Yes, Billy is in his “Golden Years” but he will define these years his own way. He will be enjoying every moment, racing with his daughter and his grandson alongside. For there is no better way for Billy to enjoy these years, spending time with family and doing something he loves and creating memories.