SHREVEPORT, Louisiana — While this thriving city in America's beautiful Deep South is known as the industrial capitol of the three-state Ark-La-Tex region, it's also a true hotbed of short track racing talent and home to generations of wonderful racing families.
Among them is 41-year-old Factory Stock icon Shawn Graham, owner of noted graphics company Hitman Designs, and perhaps one of the finest drivers to ever come out of Louisiana. Now in his 20th season of competition, he's off to a strong start, with four wins and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.
“I've always been a lower-budget team as far as new equipment or the best parts,” Graham said. “When I had this new car built, I didn't spare a dime. Obviously, it's paying off now. To win races, you have to finish them. We haven't broken a thing so far this year, and that's the whole deal right there.
“We've always won races and been competitive, but never with the consistency we have now. Plus I have a bunch of good people behind me that help. We're working with Morgan Bagley and Chris White for our shocks and setup information. Their guidance has been a huge part of my recent success.”
Graham has driven nearly every kind of race car ever built during a solid career spanning two decades.
“I've been a stock car guy all my life,” Graham humbly explained. “I'm a true believer that you are what you start out as; the guys who start out in a Late Model, they don't ever step down. I started in a Stock Car because we didn't have any money and that was what we could afford.
“So I've been in this class for all 20 years I've raced. I've also owned a bunch of different race cars for several different classes; everything but a Super Late Model. Yet I've always migrated back to the Stock Car. I think in every point in life, be it your personal life or your hobby, you have to know your lane.”
Remember, the Ark-La-Tex region is where Factory Stock was born. So it only stands to reason some of our sport's top talent dwells within its borders. Thus, the level of competition is off the charts.
“It's kind of wild, really, because this started out as a true beginner class,” Graham said. “Twenty years ago, if we had three or four thousand dollars in our cars, that was top-of-the-line. Now, they're twenty or thirty thousand dollar cars, and with that has come a real transformation.
“It has eliminated those who have neither the money nor proper experience to compete, and so now we have a class full of high-end cars driven by longtime veterans, not rookies. Today, if you don't have the backing, support from your chassis builder and your shock guy, you just aren't going to be able to compete.”
When Graham grabs his helmet, suits up and gets ready to go racing, he climbs into a unique machine. It's a brand new, top-notch chassis, and there aren't many of them in existence.
“I drive a Dominator chassis, built by Ronnie Long and Josh Baucomb,” Graham said with a distinct pride in his voice. “It's one of two they've done, and my best friend Chris White owns the other one. Up until this year, I had always built his own cars. It's a great car, and drives like a dream.
“As for power under the hood, I use a WCH engine built by Jammie Wells in Midlothian, Texas. He does a fantastic job for us, with strong, reliable power. I couldn't ask for more or a better race engine.”
Along with that brand new, almost exclusive custom race car and amazing raw driving talent, Graham also has several fine people and companies on board who keep his program so highly successful.
“First off, I want to thank my wife Brittany and my son Racyn for their support, along with Chris White and crew members Ben and Kristi McDuff. I couldn't do this without their support.
“I also need to thank my valued sponsors, including Summer Grove Auto Care; Scott Swanner at Bulletproof Tee's; Bodies by Easley; 2b Construction; Billy White at W&W Timber; Jammie Wells at WCH Race Engines; Jody Prince at J&J Motorsports; Brandon Buhlr at TCC Carbs; Jeff Lewis at JRP; Tim Frost at Pro1 Transmission; Billy Vest at Dirt Defender; Morgan Bagley at MoBags Suspension; Dennis Bissonette at Stephenville Starter & Electric; Ronnie & Josh at Dominator Race Cars; Justin Witt at Witt's Powder Coating; Josh Mcgaha at All Pro Clutch and Driveline; Chad Callender at Chad's Auto & Exhaust; and Megan and Phillip Smith at The Parker Lee Project. I appreciate all of them.”
With the new season in full swing and those four wins under his belt, Graham has his sights on more. While winning races is his focus, the customer base at Hitman Designs is growing quickly, as well.
“I've done some work for Owen Pittman, I do some work for Kennedale, all the trophy checks for Ark-La-Tex, Sabine and Lonestar Speedways, and tons of wraps for cars. Right now, we're at 144 printed wraps since November. I've only been at this for five years, but it's going very well.”
“With Ark-La-Tex being USRA sanctioned, and with our success there, we'll keep an eye on those points as the season goes along,” he concluded. We're not really chasing a title, but we'll see how it goes. As far as an actual schedule, there is none. We're going wherever they pay the most money.
“My biggest thing is, I have this 13-year-old son, and I want the sport to still be around when he's my age. I worry about the future of our sport. So I support any programs for kids there are out there. If they don't get interested in cars and racing, we won't have anything left 20 years from now.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo by Scott Burson