On lap seven of the ARCA Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, Chris Cockrum's car got slammed with a piece of debris from a nearby accident. It ripped off the exhaust of the 22-year-old driver's car.
He finished the rest of the 73 laps breathing in heavy amounts of exhaust, including carbon monoxide, and coping with the overheated floorboards in his car. In the end, he finished 12th.
"It was brutal," said Cockrum of the race which took place last weekend at the Daytona International Speedway.
After the competition, paramedics treated him with 45 minutes of oxygen and the blisters on his feet are still healing. Still, he considers the race a victory and wouldn't change any of his decisions.
"I'll take 12th over being in a wrecker," he said.
Cockrum, a Conyers resident, is slowly carving out a name for himself in the racing world. For the past four years, he has competed in ARCA series races, the gateway into NASCAR racing.
Of his 12 ARCA races so far, Cockrum's finished 10 (dropping out of two due to mechanical problems) and earned 20th place or better in half the competitions, which always feature 43 cars. With the Slick Mist 12th place finish and a 17th place finish in July at the ARCA Buckle Up 150 in Kentucky, momentum is building.
"This past weekend was a big shot in the arm that gave us a lot of confidence to go to Texas (Motor Speedway) or Talledega (Superspeedway)," said Cockrum. "We're making strides and heading in the right direction. As long as we do that, we could be in the top five or 10 before too long."
Influenced by his father Lynn Cockrum, a former stock car racer, the younger Cockrum started racing go-carts at age 8 and by 16 transitioned into stock cars. By 2006, he earned a qualifying time for an ARCA race in which he placed 18th.
"The main thing is that he's proven himself on the intermediate track on the superspeedway. The only thing stopping him now from entering NASCAR is sponsorship," said his father.
Racing is an expensive sport. The Cockrums estimate they've invested in excess of hundreds of thousands of dollars on cars (they currently own three), crews, travel, practice runs ($10,000 each) and car maintenance. The money won at races, which can be several thousand dollars, is never enough to cover expenses.
Chris Cockrum's part-time racing endeavor is a family affair, with his father supplying funds for the cars, his mother managing travel arrangements and his brother creating graphics for Chris' cars and racing suits, and his grandmother cooking for the crew.
When they're not supporting Chris' racing career, the Cockrums run Advanced Communications Group, a voice, data and fiber optic cable design company that serves a nationwide client base, including Fortune 500 companies.
Lynn Cockrum said that for his son to beat the qualifying times of those drivers with multi-million dollar teams offers a sense of satisfaction to his small family-run operation.
"We seek some comfort when we see those million-dollar trailers turning around and going home and we're staying," said Lynn Cockrum.
Chris Cockrum said he's not content competing at the ARCA level.
"Just like every kid who grows up racing, you want to make it to NASCAR," said Cockrum. "We're making it to the top, but trying to make it to the top costs a lot of money and takes a lot of work."
For now, Cockrum's not going to let a tight budget get in the way of success.
"My dad always said a spring is a spring, a shock's a shock -- it's the driver who can make all that work to his advantage," he said.