Urban Legend: Hollywood is having some kind of year
By Randy Cunningham
Aug 29, 2012
For just a moment, think of someone you know in the IHRA racing field who has been very successful. It could be a nationally-renowned driver, or a buddy of yours who has built a solid career after years of local track slugfests.
Now, imagine that after achieving all that success, you hear him (or her!) say, “Yep, I’ve been blessed with a great career. But recently, I’ve found a new interest in racing, and I have to tell you that I’m really fired up about it. This could be the start of something big.”
You think, “The start of something big? He’s already a success! He loves his career, and now he’s fired up and reenergized. That’s a lethal combination!”
Donny Urban is fired up. He’s reenergized, and rarin’ to go. Why? More in a moment.
With the titles of 2009 IHRA Top Dragster Champion, Top Sportsman winner at the 2012 Summit Sportsman Spectacular event, multiple Pro-Am victories and the current Top Sportsman point leader in the Heat Wave division, you might think the driver nicknamed “Hollywood” is content to rest on his winnings.
Nope. Though accumulating a ton of trophies during his career, the owner of Champion Automotive in Graham, North Carolina loves the sport even more than he did after his first trip down the track, a journey he made after suffering a high school sports injury.
“In my high school years I was into sports and played football,” said Urban. “In my junior year I dislocated my shoulder and during the time off that summer, I was hanging out with friends who ran hot rods on the street, and I got the bug there. After I graduated I started going to Old Dominion Speedway in Virginia, and started hanging out with a good friend named Steve Witherow. He was racing hot and heavy back then, and I started going with him and helping him. I got the bug from there and started tinkering with my street car, a ’70-and-a-half Camaro, in the late 80s. Once I almost lost my license racing on the street, so I decided to do it legally at Old Dominion. After I had a little success there I went and bought my first legit race car, a ’68 Camaro, and pretty much every day of the week that they had a local race I was there. It didn’t matter if it was raining two hours away, because if I thought it might clear up, I was leaving. My first win was driving that street car that I started with. I actually drove it to Old Dominion Speedway, jacked it up, took my street tires off, put the slicks on it, and ended up winning what they called a Super Pro/Pro Combo. I ended up winning the whole race that night, and that was pretty much it.”
Completely bitten by the racing bug, Urban has spent the past 25 years traveling the country collecting trophies and friendships, and it’s fair to say that the relationships he has built are just as valuable to him as the cash prizes he has won.
“I raced on a local level for years, but then I started traveling to races in the big bucks bracket races all over the country, and did that for many, many years,” said Urban. “Obviously that’s very competitive, but everyone’s always willing to jump in and help you. When I got into IHRA racing, I found out it’s really more of a family-type deal. When you come in you can see that the racetracks are transformed into little villages and cities, and before the races start, you ride around and visit with different groups and see how their weeks went while you hang out and visit. Anytime you have any problems, you pretty much get flooded with everyone around willing to help, jumping right in whether they’re your next opponent or not. It’s so much fun. Being so competitive, you wouldn’t expect it, but that’s the way it is. I think some of my closest friends are my best rivals. I travel and race with Brett Nesbitt and Travis Harvey, and whenever we have to meet each other, even though we’re best friends off the track, I would say they’re probably my biggest rivals because we know how each other races and expect that from each other. You have to think ahead of them. It’s fun, but it’s a very competitive thing when we put our helmets on We all want to win.”
Though always wanting to be the first to the finish line, a recent near-tragic incident caused Urban to realize that the competition on the track took a backseat to the massive love and support his IHRA family provided in a time of need.
“In September of 2010 we were in Darlington racing in the final Division 2 race, and my now-wife Anita was a passenger on a golf cart,” said Urban. “There was a couple who are friends of ours who were on the back. We were going around a corner and as Anita slid on the towel she was sitting on, she fell off the seat and hit her head. It was very, very bad, and she almost died right there at the scene. The ambulance picked her up, and it was a long two weeks at the hospital, but she survived. We never could have imagined the type of love from family and friends that we had throughout racing. People at the track were praying for us, people were sending us messages, calling us, and bringing us food. We had people that came and took my motorhome and trailer to their house to take care of it. People took care of my dog. I could just go on and on. We had messages that were spreading literally across the U.S. and even from Mexico and other countries. We were getting replies and messages through Facebook from people sending prayers and hope for her to get well. You talk about wanting to help with racing and fixing cars, but this was way beyond. Words can’t even express how it feels. We just want to send our love and thanks to everybody for their prayers, concern, and all the gifts and calls. It was unbelievable.”
After her recovery, Urban proposed to Anita, the daughter of Donald and Cathy Webb, on the beach in the Florida Keys. Married in February of 2012, the couple spends their free time riding Harleys with friends, watching his beloved Washington Redskins on television, and going to the beach. But he’s never far removed from the track.
Thanks to wife Anita, mother Maureen, brother Scott, Donald and Cathy Webb, Chris Webb, Kenneth and Emma, and nephews JR and Justin, along with sponsors Goodyear, Nesbitt Performance Engines, Marco Abruzzi, American Racecars, JEGS, Auto Meter, Donnie Gibbs, House of Payne, Biondo Racing, Digital Delay, TC Signs, GT Racing Heads, and APD Carburetors, Urban has a built-in support system to fuel his racing fever. And, he’s found a new reason to feel rejuvenated about racing.
“I’ve still got the itch pretty bad and I think it’s going to stay that way,” said Urban. “My married family (Webb) races every weekend no matter what, my brother-in-law races, and all of our friends are at the racetrack. Our life is pretty much surrounded by racers and all of our friends are racers, so I don’t see myself backing away much. This year I got into a different realm of racing with Top Sportsman. I’ve always been intrigued by it and I like that style of racing. Pro Stock was always a distant dream of mine, but I knew I didn’t have the funds to back that type of deal, so Top Sportsman filled that void, and I’m really enjoying it. I think that’s going to be the thing in the next few years, and unless I get that phone call to come wheel someone’s Pro Stocker I’ll probably stay in Top Sportsman. I’ve always been in the dragster world and been really blessed throughout, more than I ever expected, but Top Sportsman has re-spiked a huge interest. I’m liking that a lot.”
So far in 2012 Urban has amassed an impressive three Top Sportsman victories at Dunn-Benson, Farmington and Carolina to lead the Division 2 Heat Wave standings. Urban also racked up big payday at the Summit Sportsman Spectacular at Maryland International Raceway earlier this year, collecting over $5,000 for the win and earning an automatic berth into the Summit Tournament of Champions in October.
Talk about a great season and Urban still has plenty to prove as he tries to add another championship to his already stellar resume in October. Yeah, it is safe to say Urban loves his sport. He’s a great ambassador for the IHRA, and you can’t help but cheer for him. Maybe we should just say…hooray for “Hollywood!”