A lifelong passion for stock car racing landed a Liberty County man a cameo appearance in Sunday’s Heluva Good 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway.
Chris Peyton, owner of NaCon Auto Collision in Hinesville, was surprised to find his image on the hood of a car while visiting Mooresville, N.C., last Wednesday.
The portrait appeared on the No. 32 blu cigs Ford team car, thanks to a compelling essay by his only child, Kyle Peyton.
“I was so excited. I was like, ‘This is surreal,’” Kyle said about the news that he won. “It means a lot to be able to share what he’s done and what he’s been through, and this lets people know how I feel.”
Kyle’s 1,672-word story about his father’s perseverance beat more than 2,000 entries in a Father’s Day contest, said Jonathan Burger, social media director for contest sponsor blu cigs, which manufactures electronic cigarettes.
“Kyle’s (story) definitely stuck out from the beginning … it had everything we could have possibly wanted,” Burger said. “You got that warm, fuzzy feeling from thinking about him winning.”
A family background in racing, a history of overcoming medical hardships and a son in the military with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan were elements at play in choosing the most heart-warming entry, he said.
From about 8 years old, Chris Peyton, now 50, recalls spending time with his father, Al, at the dirt racetrack in Savannah. When Chris turned 16 in 1976, he followed in his father’s footsteps by driving late models.
For about 10 years, he raced the four-cylinder division’s International Sedan Series that allowed him to drive on many of the same tracks as Winston Cup driving legends Kyle Petty, Clifford Allison and Larry Pearson.
“They were all fun,” Chris said, recalling that his best finish was fourth place in a Daytona International Speedway race. “That track was the fastest; there we got up to 160, 170 miles per hour.”
But in 1988, 27-year-old Chris was diagnosed with colon cancer — news that would end his amateur racing career.
“When they told me that … I didn’t feel sick, I felt normal,” he said. “I just had to try to pick up something else to do, because that’s all I had been involved with with my dad since probably 8 (or) 9.”
Chris has suffered several medical conditions since, including a ruptured brain aneurism while on vacation in St. Martin about seven years ago.
During his trials and tribulations — through operations, treatments and remission — Chris remained a fan of racing, watching whenever it was convenient.
He got to revisit his fast-track glory days Wednesday during a trip to North Carolina with stops at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte and a tour of the FAS Lane facilities in Mooresville, where the car was unveiled.
Keeping the surprise under wraps was a family affair for Kyle; his grandfather, Al; stepmother, Sheriese Peyton; and girlfriend, Amber White. They sent Chris to have professional pictures taken and asked him to fill out paperwork for a background check, but they said it was mandatory for Kyle’s security clearance with his new position in the Georgia Army National Guard. And, as far as Chris knew, the trip to North Carolina simply was to tour a race shop.
“When I had to get my picture taken, I knew something was up,” Chris said. “I didn’t know what until they rolled the car out and I saw the picture on there — it was unbelievable. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
As Chris watched driver Mike Bliss place 35th in Sunday’s race, he also saw his blurred portrait on TV, he said.
“That’s one of the few tracks I never got to race on, but I got my picture on the hood, and I got to race there,” he said. “Not physically, but I got to race there.”
Chris said he is touched by Kyle’s essay and plans to add it to the collection of letters Kyle wrote from his three deployments to the Middle East as a 10-year member of the National Guard.
“It’s one of the top Father’s Day presents,” he said. “The best is to have my son back all three times he’s been overseas, but this ranks up there pretty close to it.”