It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, that's not all that a village can do. On Sunday, it took a village for Glen Reen to win the 2011 World Series NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at Thompson International Speedway (CT).
Reen was only making his fifth start of the WMT season at Thompson. For each of those races, he had to enlist the help of family, friends and the community of his hometown - Wilbraham, Massachusetts - to just make it to the track. This time, Reen needed all of the help that he could get and was able to make the decision to go to the World Series just days before signing into the pit gates at the track.
“We weren't going to come here,” said Reen. “On Monday morning, I talked to my family and we thought about it and how everyone could pitch in to buy tires. So we went. We weren't coming and just a few days later, we're here in victory lane.”
Everyone knows that racing is expensive. Some drivers are independently wealthy. Some race teams have a major sponsor who can pay all of the bills. Reen doesn't fall into either of those categories - so he needs all of the helps that he can get. There probably isn't enough room on his racecar to list everyone who chips in cash or labor to get the #17 to the track. No help, no matter how small, is unwelcome for Reen.
“I cannot thank these guys enough,” said Reen. “They chip in, they buy tires, they help at the track. Our smallest sponsor I think has been for one dollar. I've had everything from people paying their way in to buying dinners to buying four tires. You can't imagine how much that helps and what it means.
“I'll tell you, my best friends are my whole family and my crew because these guys go through hell and high water to get me here. My family is behind me 100% - my Mom, my Dad, my uncles, they all help me.”
When it comes to a team, everyone pitches in as well. Reen never has the same lineup from race to race. He picks up crew members from his pool of family and friends, along with some fill-ins from other race teams, as they are available.
“We have no full time guys. I work and then I go to the shop at night. I bust my butt and these guys do too. We never know who will be helping us. We just picked up two guys from an SK crew at Stafford. Chris Haskell showed up - he and I have fun with his Dad's dirt cars. You ask people what they are doing this weekend and they end up at the track.”
Reen was especially surprised by one of his helpers at the World Series.
“Cullen Gardner is in the Air Force, he fights for us, and he's here helping me today,” said Reen. “He wasn't supposed to be here today. He was in North Carolina and spoke to the captain about flying home early because he wasn't supposed to fly home until tomorrow. The captain said that wouldn't be bad and then they started talking about racing. Cullen told him that he was wanting to pit a Modified at Thompson today. That was at 9am. He asked if they could possibly gear up by 10:30…well, the captain is a racing fan and he said they could gear up in 15 minutes. So they flew back.
“I was sitting in the trailer and they told me, 'You'll never guess who is here!' and then he walked in.”
Although Reen only ended up running five Tour races this season, he did get the opportunity to stay sharp by racing an SK Modified weekly at Stafford Motor Speedway for car owner Donald Silberman this season.
“Donny gave me the opportunity to runt he #21 SK Modified this year and that thing gave me so much confidence in the seat,” said Reen. “That seat time helped so much. I wouldn't have won this race, I guarantee you hands down I wouldn't have, if it wasn't for being in that car this year.
“Everyone tells me that seat time is key and they aren't kidding. If this had been last year or two years ago, I would have made mistakes. But instead of worrying about what the other guy was doing though, I was focused. It was all about focus, focus, focus and checking my points. I made sure to hit my marks and not to overdrive or underdrive the car.”
On a day when guys like former WMT champions Ted Christopher, Mike Stefanik, Todd Szegedy were favorites to win the race, Reen was a longshot at best. He'll admit that too. Nobody was as shocked as Reen after the race was over.
“I absolutely can't believe this. None of us can. I called my Mom and she was so mad that she didn't come here today. It hasn't even sunk in for me yet. It probably won't even sink in until later this week.”
After the victory lane celebrations died down, Reen started to think about a few of his friends who weren't at the track. Given his upbeat personality, Reen makes friends wherever he goes and during his time living in North Carolina, he became buddies with a few drivers who are better known in the NASCAR community.
“My roommate (Part-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver) Stephen Leicht already texted me, now I have to call Carl Edwards and let him know how today went.”
And one former NASCAR champion, who passed away when Reen was only seven years old, was also on the new winner's mind. Alan Kulwicki rose to the top of NASCAR Cup racing in 1992 as an independent driver. Kulwicki scratched and clawed for everything that he earned in racing. Like Reen, he was an underdog who wasn't expected to win big. Like Reen, he did anyway. That served as an inspiration for Reen to be able to score such an upset victory. Just as our interview was over, Reen wanted to add one more thing about his late hero.
“I need to thank Alan Kulwicki too,” said Reen. “He paved the way for so many of us. There's a seven on this car too and I was thinking of that when we were going today.”