Larry Shaw is in a class of his own. Racers running his chassis have been saying that for years, as week after week, builds from Larry Shaw Race Cars reach Victory Lane all across America. That “class of his own” statement now has a tangible figure attached to it though, as Shaw has recently built his 5,000th race car.
“If you multiply it, that’s probably about 25 miles of cars bumper to bumper,” says Shaw, the most prolific builder in the country.
Shaw is proud of his cars and what he and his company have accomplished, but he is a humble man who speaks with graciousness and southern charm. A native of Batesville, Arkansas, his unassuming shop is still based in his tiny, but racing-mad hometown. Make no mistake, though; the cars churned out by Shaw and his staff are a force to be reckoned with from the tiniest bullring to dirt racing’s biggest stages. Larry Shaw Race Cars have taken the checkered flag in everything from the World 100 at famed Eldora Speedway to the biggest Dirt Modified race ever, the 2004 Alltel 100 at Shaw’s hometown Batesville Motor Speedway, won by dirt stalwart Scott Bloomquist.
Back in 1982, Shaw even built a four-wheel drive Dirt Late Model for Hall of Fame driver Jerry Inmon.
Shaw says that he and his staff can easily build three cars a week. Each car spends a day on the jig and then is powder coated.
“Cars these days are harder to build than they used to be,” he says. “It used to be you had the front suspension and the rear end, and a shifter and the gauges and pedals, but now you’ve got all kinds of stuff that has to go with it, all the complicated and trick birdcages and everything.”
Shaw would know about the evolution of race cars; in fact, he began building cars for NASCAR legend Mark Martin — another of Batesville’s native sons — when Martin was still a teenager and his dad, Julian, enlisted Shaw’s help.
“Julian called, wanted to know if I’d help him build a car for Mark. I said, ‘I don’t know anything about building race cars,’” Shaw remembers. “He said, ‘I don’t either…maybe if he can’t drive it, you and me can have some fun.’
“So anyway, we went and got a ‘55 Chevrolet and worked all winter on that thing. Come up on the first race, Mark went off the racetrack. He shot right back on, and I think he run 4th. After that is pretty well history.”
Shaw is referring to Martin’s career, which took him from the rural dirt tracks to asphalt Late Models and the old ASA National tour, to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and his January 2017 induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He very well could have been referring to his own career trajectory though.
Shaw opened his own shop on October 10, 1979, after a brief detour to work at an engine shop in Michigan. He believed the 88 inches of snow he saw up north in one winter was just about enough for him. His first few cars were asphalt builds until a fateful trip to the Hutchinson Grand National Auto Races at 81 Speedway in Hutchinson, Kansas, changed his career forever. After a whirlwind trip around the country to collect the parts needed to build his first dirt car, Shaw showed up at the track and absolutely dominated.
“I guess the good Lord looked down and said ‘I’m just going to take care of you on this,’” Shaw says. “I mean, I built this car just like an asphalt car. It was real low to the ground, really had a lot of ground effects to it, had a tunnel tail, sheet metal work done on it.
“We unload the car and went quick time. They had a heat race; we won it. Then later that day, they had a trophy dash; we won it. And then the next day, we lined up to run the feature race, and we lapped everybody except the second-place car. When I left the track that day, I had deposits on seven race cars. So, then I know that I need to be in the dirt business.”
That was Shaw’s 35th chassis, and it understandably maintains a special place in his heart.
Shaw’s cars just kept winning.
“Winning is the best part of this business,” he says. “We win anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 features every year.
“I guess I have mellowed out a lot over the years. [It used to be] if we got beat at a racetrack, [you] had to be pretty quick to beat me out the pit gate. I got over that in time. So I can wait now until the feature is over, but I guess I did have a little attitude back then. I just didn’t want to get beat. You put so much in it.”
Shaw will build any race car for anyone, dirt or asphalt, Modified or Late Model. However, his business seems to have gravitated towards Dirt Modifieds because he believes their relatively low cost appeals more to the grassroots racer. Many of these individuals have the talent, but perhaps not the funds to build a Late Model.
Shaw is nostalgic about the past, but certainly doesn’t live there. He’s pushing ever forward, much like his friend Scooter Brothers, COO at the COMP Performance Group in Memphis. Shaw says in the early days, he and Scooter might drive from West Tennessee to North Carolina, Ohio or Alabama for a weekend race, and then be back at work Monday morning.
“Scooter was real, real good to me back then, and he still is,” Shaw says. “I think the world of Scooter. He’s real high on my list of favorite people. “
Shaw’s career has come full circle with his 5,000th race car. The Dirt Modified features COMP branding, Mark Martin’s famous No.2 ASA colors, and will be featured around the country before landing in its permanent home at Mark Martin Automotive in Batesville.
The idea of folks from Larry Shaw’s past honoring his present is a testament to his well-deserved respect in the world of motorsports. Here’s to the next 5,000 cars.