CEDAR RAPIDS – Brad Chandler has always tried to live his life like his dad did: by working hard, loving his family and racing when he could. That desire only increased when Merv unexpectedly died on March 10.
So on Saturday, Chandler said he did what his dad would’ve wanted him to do – he worked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at his job at Quaker Oats, then sprinted to a race at Lee County Speedway in Donnellson.
The race was important because it was the last place Merv raced before his death. And in true movie fashion, Brad went out and won after resarting last in a field of 17 cars late in the race.
“The biggest reason I went down there was to finish where he left off,” Brad said. “The end of that race was like a blur. It wasn’t even thinking about it. It just felt like I wasn’t even driving the car really. Pretty crazy.”
Brad hadn’t planned on running the race originally. His race car – re-numbered to No. 2M in honor of Merv – had been wrecked in the final race of the season last year, and hadn’t been touched all winter.
But at the urging of his friends, the car got dug out, and last-minute preparations began while Brad finished his shift.
“My buddy Jeff (Dake) kept bugging me and bugging me, saying ‘Your dad would’ve wanted you to go,” Brad said. “So I called everyone I knew and I got Jeff and two of my buddies to help me and get the car ready while I was at work.”
The night wasn’t drama-free on the track, either.
Two other cars were running “2M," so the scorer’s table had difficulty at times differentiating who was who.
At one point, another No. 2M spun someone out, and the blame was mistakenly placed on Brad. He was then sent to the back again, and had to make a dash to the front. Along the way, he had to encounter a driver who had a run-in with Merv in his last race.
And of course, he had to pass the same driver for the win.
“I went to the rear, even though it wasn’t me,” Brad said. “This guy named Adam Gates, he’s always tough competition. He was the guy I ended up having to pass for the lead. We battled pretty good for the remainder of the race.”
A win like that provides a salve on wounds that will never really heal for a grieving family.
In addition, Brad had been hospitalized from stress, dealing with his father’s death and the coming birth of his child. So Saturday night was a kind of medicine for Brad.
“I think it’s almost like (a) conclusion,” Brad said. “I know that’s what he would’ve wanted me to do. That’s what he would want all of us boys to do. Not to mourn his death, but to do what he loved to do.”
And in true Merv Chandler fashion, Brad and Co. drove home, he got to bed by 2 a.m., then was up again at 6 a.m. to get back to work.
“Got up at 6 and was back at it,” Brad said. “It seems this was always a trait. We were always running late, always showing up at the end. Racing was always a hobby, but wasn’t a priority and was always the last thing to do.”