Many reading this story are parents and are well aware of both the rewards and difficulties involved with that responsibility. At the same time, it is likely that the vast majority of those reading this piece have never driven a race car but still probably have some degree of understanding as to the rewards and difficulties of that profession. So it stands to reason that any person who takes on both the tasks of parenthood and racing are certain to intensify the rewards and difficulties of each.
With Father’s Day approaching this weekend, it seems appropriate to get an idea of what the combination of fatherhood and racing can be like.
Matt Henderson has been racing for essentially his entire adult life. And just over four years ago, he added fatherhood to his list of responsibilities when he and wife Amber welcomed son Oakley into their family. Now, the Loudon, Tenn. resident is working hard to succeed at both of those endeavors.
“The good thing is that we get to instill a lot of the values that are important in life with hard work and dedication,” Henderson explained in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “Oakley comes to the shop and stays with me to help me wash. He’s 4-years-old and he’ll pressure wash a tire until I tell him to quit. So the best thing is that there are those kinds of values we can instill using racing as a tool.”
Henderson attributes much of his own love for racing to his own father. And now the driver sees much of himself in his son.
“My dad started taking me to Atomic Speedway when I was five or six years old and all the drivers were my heroes,” the racer recalled. “I would run down to the gate there and wave at them when they were doing their four-wide salute. Those were the days when the UDTRA and the Extreme Dirt Series and all the big name guys were in one series. They were my heroes and Oakley looks at me like that now that I’m the racer. To be able to be that for him is pretty cool.”
Perhaps the most difficult part of racing and being a dad is the amount of travel and the time away from home required to compete at high levels in the sport. Henderson knows all too well what toll the nights spent in faraway places takes on his young son.
“We traveled 54 nights in 2015,” he pointed out. “Oakley is at the point now where he can’t understand why I’m gone. Because of that, I’ve cut back on the traveling until he gets to where he can go with me and not be miserable. It does have its down sides when we were gone four days the week before last and he just doesn’t understand. He called me real sad. Amber does a real good job of keeping hum upbeat when I’m gone, but there’s only so much she can do.”
Henderson’s own father, Jack Henderson, was not only instrumental in getting his son into racing but was also the biggest supporter of the No. 17 machine and its driver. And more, he demonstrated the values that are essential to success in all aspects of life to his son. Now, those values are being passed down.
Unfortunately, Jack Henderson passed away in June of 2014.
“Dad was always in the shop with me,” Henderson remembered. “I would about have to make him leave so I could leave to go home. He was a perfectionist when it came to what we did on race cars. He’s the one who taught me the effort it takes to be successful and I just want to do that for Oakley. I know there were a lot of things I could have been doing that could have hurt me in life if it hadn’t been for racing.”
As far as his own son racing, Henderson isn’t sure that’s the path he wants to go down. However, it may well be an inevitable one.
“I really don’t want him to race at all. The risk and the things that go on with the drama that can evolve in it makes me hope he doesn’t, but if I’m raising him in it, there’s a good chance he’ll follow right along.”