Many fans at Edmonton International Raceway have come to expect to see the blue and white #08 of Don Lawrence on Saturday nights.
Lawrence drives in the Thunder Car division at EIR – a quarter-mile, semi-banked asphalt oval that is Western Canada’s only NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanctioned race track – and said he’s built quite a fan base in his 15 seasons there.
“We might not be the elite cars at our track but I’ve got a very loyal following, I guess,” Lawrence said. “If I don’t show up they’re wondering if things are wrong and that kind of stuff. So absolutely we’ve certainly created some fans out of it.”
Many of Lawrence’s fans could have come from the fact that he’s been so successful at Edmonton, racking up 35 wins in 15 years, and two so far this season. But many others have come through Lawrence’s work with his car outside of the track.
While Lawrence said he loves getting into victory lane, he uses his car for much more. Once a year he participates in a Make-A-Wish event, bringing young race fans battling health issues to the track for a night to forget about their health battles. Lawrence’s team had his car equipped with a second seat so they could give people rides, and he said it didn’t seem right that they didn’t use that for something more, which is part of why he wanted to get involved with Make-A-Wish.
Lawrence has also done charity events with the United Way, auctioning off rides in his car, and giving back in other ways through his driving.
“If you think about it, for me anyway, we live a very privileged lifestyle where I have a nice home, meals on the table every day, my health is pretty good for an old guy. I can go on and on about all the good things, so if we can take and spread that out just a little bit, help somebody else out, put a smile on somebody’s face, help them have a better life, that’s a good thing,” Lawrence said. “It’s just a little bit about caring and giving.”
Allowing other people to take rides in his cars also shows outsiders to the sport what racing is really like.
“For somebody who’s never been in a race car it’s really hard to explain why you do it,” he said. “And sometimes when you take somebody for a couple of laps they go, ‘I get it.’ There’s quite a rush to it.
“Two years ago we had a little guy out there, he was six years old, and he was dealing with some pretty nasty cancer stuff. But you see the look on his face, the smile from ear to ear, and he’s having the time of his life and forgot about his problems for an evening. It’s a great thing.”
Lawrence also uses his racing to reach out to young people in his community through career and technical training. He is heavily involved in an outfit that helps train adults for a trade.
“I do a fair amount of public speaking about careers for people and people always ask me about the racing because it’s a really big part of me,” he said. “But it teaches you about things, gives you commitment, keeps you focused. I’ve known kids who have gotten into racing in the past and when you’ve got a 17 or 18-year-old that’s really focused on racing they’re not in trouble. Kids who succeed is a very heartwarming things for me, whatever that is, whether it’s their career or through racing or whatever. If they’re succeeding or doing better than they were, that’s a good thing.”
Lawrence began racing at a young age, and has been in everything from a car, motorcycle, and even a snowmobile.
At this point in his life, he said Thunder Cars fit best for him because there is less of a financial and time commitment, but still gives him the thrill of being on the track.
It helps too, that Thunder Cars are one of the more competitive classes at Edmonton International.
“Even if you ran really well, there’s nothing saying you’re going to dominate or win every night,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen.
“I still enjoy going out and having a little fun. I don’t know, at some point they decided I’m a wily old veteran, so if that’s truly the case, it’s a lot of fun. You can take some of the young guns and still teach them a thing or two.”
Lawrence’s car currently leads the points at Edmonton International, with two wins and a second place finish so far this season. He’ll hit the track again on Saturday, when the track holds super stocks, thunder cars, feature stocks, and future stocks, beginning at 6 p.m.
“I just want to go out and race really hard,” he said. “I obviously love winning, I like sticking those win stickers on the roof of my car. I know that sounds so silly but there’s just something about it. We have five guys on our crew and when we win we share. It isn’t always me that sticks the sticker, everybody gets their turn to put it in the roof.
“We’ve been very fortunate. The race gods smile on us on regular basis I think.”