HICKORY, N.C. — It’s been 21 years since Dexter Canipe Sr. strapped into a race car, but he’s going to change that on July 24 at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Canipe Sr., the 1997 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national champion and the 1998 Hickory Motor Speedway late model stock champion, is returning to action for one night only in order to race against his son, Dexter Canipe Jr., for the first time.
“That son of mine said he’d like to race against me one time because he thinks he’s really, really good and he thought I was really, really good. So he wants to see who is the best,” the elder Canipe said.
“I’m like, ‘You know you’re gonna win because you’re 21 years younger than I am,’” he added with a laugh.
The Canipe father-son duo has been among the most successful racing families in the Carolinas in the last 30 years.
The elder Canipe, in addition to his national success in 1997 and the Hickory track championship in 1998, won more than 150 races during his career and also captured a track title at South Carolina’s Greenville-Pickens Speedway in ’97. He won his first race at Hickory in 1979.
His son, though lacking a NASCAR national title, has been just as successful at the weekly level across North and South Carolina. He won the late model stock car title at Hickory in 2016 to go accompany multiple track titles across three divisions at Tri-County Motor Speedway in Hudson, N.C. He claimed his 100th career victory at Hickory in 2016.
“I can’t wait, it’s going to be fun,” said Canipe Jr. “He’s been wanting to race for the past year. I was like, ‘Listen, I’ll pay the bills. If you want to race, let’s go race. Let’s go practice and if you want to race, I’ll pay the bills.’ As he became more serious about racing, I said, ‘Hell, if you’re gonna race, I’m gonna race with you.”
This isn’t the first time the father-son pairing has attempted to race against each other.
“We had a race back in 2009 that we were going to do, just a spur of the moment,” Canipe Jr. recalled. “His car broke and we didn’t get to race each other.”
Fast-forward more than 10 years and Canipe Jr. is finally going to get to fulfill his dream of racing against his father.
“I’ve always wanted to race him,” Canipe Jr. said. “I’ve always wanted to race the guys who I grew up watching, like Dennis Setzer. I raced him once or twice. Scott Kilby, Andy Houston, all those guys. I really wanted to race against Max Prestwood back in his prime, because those were what I thought were real race car drivers.
“I really want to race my dad. He’s been practicing here lately, and he’s been getting better and better every time he practices,” Canipe Jr. continued. “He’s starting to pick it up and I’m actually starting to get a little worried because I didn’t really think…he is really good. Don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t think he would pick it up quite like he has been.”
Now age 61, Canipe Sr. has no problem admitting he’s past his prime in a race car. His goal is to have fun when he and his son hit the track in their respective late models.
“Here’s how I look at it. I’m 61 years old and I have nothing to prove, but I am going to go and have a good time. As far as preparing for it, I’m not,” Canipe Sr. said. “If I get tired or hot or don’t like it, I’m just going to pull in and park it.
“I think it’s going to be entertaining, I think. I’m arrogant, I don’t know what to expect.”
Despite having been retired for more than 20 years, the elder Canipe has remained involved by operating his own driver-development program in addition to holding down a full-time job.
He’s currently looking for interested parties to rent or lease cars from his stable. He said he plans to field an entry for Connor Mosack during the upcoming CARS Tour Throwback 276 on July 31 at Hickory.
“The parents get ahold of me, and we rent and lease my cars out,” said Canipe Sr. “It’s been very interesting. The last couple of years I’ve had two full-time deals and it has worked out pretty good. I don’t know what it is, if I made everybody mad or if COVID has got everybody locked in, but the rental deal hasn’t developed this year.
“We’re not blessed with stuff, but we’re alright, you know?”
As part of the special night for the Canipe family, Hickory Motor Speedway will be selling limited edition shirts celebrating Canipe Sr.’s 1997 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series National title. Event shirts featuring the cars of Canipe Sr. and Canipe Jr. will also be sold.
Canipe Jr. said he plans to take a fun approach to the race, though he expects his father to get more competitive as they get closer to race day.
“I think I’m going to take it as a fun approach. My dad, with racing, when you get there, it is all business and no joking,” Canipe Jr. said. “I think I’m going to get there and laugh and pick around, but I think he’s going to be all business and no joking.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want to have a little bit of fun with this, but every time we’ve gone and practiced the last couple of weeks he has been tuned in.”