HAROLD — Some athletes have to wear a helmet because of a sports' dangers.
Teenager J.C. Wilson has to wear two of them.
Wilson, 15, has been wearing a football helmet during spring practice at Milton High School, but on weekend nights you can find him looking through his Simpson racing helmet at a local dirt track.
"It is definitely different when it comes to helmets," said the linebacker at Milton High School.
Although he just got his learner's permit, Wilson first raced as a 12-year-old on dirt in a street stock car at Southern Raceway. He won his first race at 13 by beating his dad, Frank, and being the best rookie in the class. Last season at 14, the younger Wilson dominated the street stock division and beat his father, Frank, for the title by 192 points with three wins. He also starting racing in a more competitive division, 602 Sportsman Late Model, the same season and finished second by 60 points to Milton’s Johnathon Joiner.
"I have been amazed by all of this," Wilson said. "It has been a very fun experience for me."
But J.C. is not just a driver. He is a student in dad’s race shop. While Frank prepares his son's cars each week, the younger Wilson is right beside him helping to tune, adjust and even repair the car when necessary.
"He has always helped me out in the garage since he was old enough to walk," recalled his father Frank. "He would stay out there with me until his mom (Raeann) would call him for bed."
But as time passed and J.C. talked about racing, Frank explained what it would take for him to buckle up in a race car for the first time.
"The first part of the deal was his grades and school, then he had to do his chores at home, and finally he had to help me with the race cars," recalled Frank, who has been racing for 27 years. "He really wants to learn all he can about a race car and how to adjust and set it up."
Racing is not just limited to Frank and J.C., as Frank’s brother Stuart occasionally races on the dirt oval.
So would J.C. prefer a career on the oval or the gridiron?
"If I had my druthers, I would like to compete in the Lucas Oil Dirt Super Late Model Series one day," J.C. said with a grin. "I dream about running against the likes of Scott Davenport, Scott Bloomquist and those drivers."
In the meantime, Wilson is grinding through spring practice just off of Park Avenue and is hoping to contribute to the Panther football program under head coach Harry Lees.
"J.C. is a great kid and I found out recently from Coach (Jason) Summers that he races," said Lees. "I would have to say this is a first for me even after I coached football in Hueytown, Ala., where the Allisons (a NASCAR racing family) are from.
"I have never coached a football player that was a race car driver."
When it comes to Mom, she prefers J.C. behind the wheel, not in the huddle.
"If you can ever feel comfortable when it involves your child, I feel better when J.C. is racing," said Raeann. "I have watched Frank build these cars and I know how careful and meticulous he is when it comes to the safety of a race car. So I definitely feel better about racing that J.C. being on the football field."
Ironically J.C. is learning a lot more than racing and football. He is also learning the rules of the road with his learners permit.
"On the racetrack we are all going in the same direction, but when I am driving on the road there are cars coming at you," J.C. said. "The most interesting thing about driving is I feel safer on the racetrack than when I am driving on the road."