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The Real Man Behind the Racer, Don O'Neal-The Real Deal
by Rebecca Richards

No matter how nervous Martinsville, Indiana late model racer Don O'Neal may be before a big night of racing, only those closest to him know it. With a ready grin, twinkling blue eyes and a good nature, Don never lets a case of racing jitters interfere with his interaction between him and his many fans, of which there are many.
"Don is a racer's racer and one of the nicest guys in the sport," says Terry Young, from Hoosier Tires.
On the track, Don O'Neal is well known for his smooth, fast and clean racing skills.  Fans are often excited by Don's ability to pass high and low against the odds on any track, a feat most drivers strive for but have difficulty accomplishing.
Don displays good sportsmanship,  and it's not his style to tear down another racer-no matter how he feels. 
Don O'Neal is a down to earth, honest, hard working family man who has finally reached his dream and goal to work full time at his racing career. 
"It has taken me all my life to get where I'm at now. I've raced for years without making a dime, now I have great sponsors which makes all the difference," said Don. When asked if all the hard work was worth it. Smiling, Don said,"A bad day of working racing isn't as bad as a bad day at a job you hate doing."
Don is quick to give credit to his sponsors who have stuck by him and believed in him; C. J. Rayburn Racecars, B Auto Parts, Petroff Towing, Afco Racing Parts, O'Neal Wood Products, Dave Peeden and Hoosier by Smash. Good sponsors are hard to secure and difficult to keep, but if they believe in the racer and are proud of the racers' accomplishments and attitude, sponsors will stay with a racer and their team.  Don O'Neal's sponsors are very proud to be a part of his race team, and rightfully so. Don respects other racers, their equipment, follows officials orders and guidelines, and treats fans like they are friends. These are the very qualities that make a talented racer a great racer.  

 

After a long night and chilly temps the O'Neal team kicks back for a photo op. From left to right:C.J. Rayburn, Mark Saul, Tony Thomas, Marvin O,Neal (Don's dad), Becky O'Neal-Don's wife, Don, Rodney Williams (Don's 2nd dad).


Throughout his early racing days, Don and older brother Marty would often be found ripping around in go karts, through the woods, across the fields and just about anywhere a go kart could go. After a while, Don followed brother Marty into limited late model racing in the early 80's at Paragon, Indiana where he had his first feature win in 1981.
That was also the location of his first date with his future wife Becky Williams.  Becky had never experienced the racing scene and had no idea what to expect.  She learned a lot!
"I loved him to distraction," she said with a bright smile, "I would have followed him anywhere."
She has proven her love for Don time after time.  As a member of O'Neal Racing, Becky takes care of many aspects of O'Neal Racing, from handling accounting matters to cleaning the hauler and cab, PLUS dinner delivery to the garage when the crew is working late.   She does it all with the same cheerful, positive attitude shared by Don.
The couple have two sons which keep her hopping! Houston, age seven, and Hudson, age 2,  are Don and Becky's pride and joy. At home, Don enjoys playing games with his sons, such as wrestling and  racing through the house. (Foot Races Only!)
The itch to move on just wouldn't go away and in 1992, Don got his first ride in a new Rayburn late model. He couldn't have been happier.
It started a chain of events for Don's career that would lead him to some of the most exciting experiences of his life,  with the exception of his marriage to Becky and the birth of his sons!
Through the 90's,  Don fine tuned his skills and became dominant at local tracks, always striving to be better week by week.  His determination paid off, and by 1992, Don had racked up 20 feature wins, and a win at the Kenny Simpson Memorial that same year.
Not satisfied, he kept striving for improvement, and in 1996 he hit the road and succeeded in capturing the Summer Nationals Victory, a  highlight for Don that he'll never forget.
Don said,"I am the most proud of my accomplishments in the last two years, winning at East Bay (Florida) for the first time during Speedweeks (2000), the Jackson 100 (Indiana) , and winning four features in 2002 at East Bay (Florida) during Speedweeks with his own team, and two at Volusia (Florida)."


The Real Deal continued snatching victories throughout many states and fans couldn't get enough!
Don, always ready to please his fans, obliges them to the best of his ability, traveling to various tracks, eager to expand his knowledge-not to mention his number of wins and earnings to pay those bills!
I asked Don about the nights every racer dreads, when everything seems to go wrong.  He advises new racers, "Don't let it get you down, keep a positive attitude and do what my sponsor tells me-RACE! RACE! RACE! Don't give up!  (C. J. Rayburn-Rayburn Racecars) ."
Talking with O'Neal fans, you hear the normal "idol" talk, but you hear something more that is uncommon.
Don O'Neal-The Real Deal-is just that, according to his fans, sponsors, track officials, media and other racers.
His open, honest, firm-yet friendly, determined, serious-yet-fun face and eyes are a true reflection of who is he every day.
Some of the people interviewed were asked the same questions about different drivers and Don O'Neal was included in each survey.  Don was in the top of the most respected drivers in general in dirt track racing of all the people interviewed.  That really is a big compliment in racing!

By Rebecca Richards
This article is copyright protected and may not be reproduced without written permission. All rights reserved. Rebecca Richards 2003

For south central Indiana racing columns written by Rebecca Richards pick up a Hoosier Marketing!

For national racing results, track information, photos and driver interviews by Rebecca Richards log onto: www.luvracin.com

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I just had to add the pic of me and my bud Don O'Neal! He is a good friend! Love his wife Becky too!

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