Matt Campbell knelt on the concrete floor of the Premier Racing Team shop, working on the operation’s No. 21 sprint car.
For 17 years, Brian Montieth handled the potent machine. But now with Montieth, one of the more electrifying sprint car racers in central Pennsylvania, gone from the team, Campbell has taken over in the driver’s seat, inheriting the winning expectations that come with the ride.
Campbell’s right where he wants to be.
“All the stuff going on in the world, all the stuff going on in your life, it’s all gone,” Campbell said. “You can call it my happy place.”
Still, the 22-year-old can’t escape the pedigree that surrounds his new ride.
The shop’s walls are adorned with the wing panels from all eight of the cars Montieth drove to track championships at Lincoln Speedway and there are numerous giant winner’s checks, including the 2012 Tuscarora 50 at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway.
Walk up the wooden steps to the attic, where the team stores spare parts, and one sees a collection of trophies.
It is enough historical evidence to move a young driver to stage fright, but for Campbell it fuels his desire.
“You come to a place like this,” Campbell said, “you get to look around and you know you’re going to be better. Now, it’s just aligning my shoes. Now, it’s up to me.”
Whatever pressure lies ahead, it will never amount to the burden Campbell has carried to reach this position. As Campbell prepared to make his debut aboard Jerry Parrish’s No. 21 sprint car, he marked the third anniversary of his father’s death.
Ron Campbell died of a heart attack on Feb. 4, 2018, at the age of 55. Matt Campbell is fiercely determined to continue what his dad started.
“My dad lived out of our race shop more than he did our house,” Campbell said. “That’s how he was. I guess that’s me taking after him a little bit.”
Memories of Campbell and his father, like those created attending Pittsburgh Steelers games or on fishing trips to Ocean City, Md., are comforting.
“We did everything together,” Campbell recalled.
The heart of their relationship revolved around a single thing and nothing else came close. “Racing,” Campbell started, “it’s all we knew. It’s what me and dad always did.”
In a lot of ways, Ron Campbell is still guiding his son through the competitive waters of Pennsylvania open-wheel racing. How Campbell landed in one of central Pennsylvania’s top rides was not through a family with deep pockets, but by building relationships.
Parrish and Ron Campbell met many years ago through the automotive business. Since 1989, Parrish has owned Premier Auto Works in New Oxford, Pa., and Ron Campbell served as the co-owner of Harrington Body Shop in Rising Sun, Md.
As the years passed, Ron Campbell’s face became more recognizable to Parrish. Then, when Ron Campbell began taking young Matt to sprint car races in central Pennsylvania, father and son became fond of Montieth, who was known to many fans as “The Edge.”
“We had a lot of similarities,” Parrish said. “He was a fun-loving family guy. He had a passion for racing. … And it was more than just racing. He enjoyed the camaraderie and the relationships, too.”
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