Wade Into Racing
Take a look around at the Wade household. You can immediately figure out this is a racing family.
Papers and memorabilia hang in their office. Four cars they use for competition are in the garage in the back of their Palatka residence.
Their wedding 26 years ago was held in a 1934 Ford Roadster street rod in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Yet their first attraction had nothing to do with cars.
“We didn’t know we liked cars when we first met,” Pamala Wade said.
Their love for each other only fueled their love of cars, and became the backbone of Wade Racing, a family-owned drag racing team led by David Wade, his wife, and youngest son Austin.
Pamala’s “baby,” her 1967 Chevy Corvette with 1500 hp engine, has seen a lot in its time – one of the three that she’s driven en route to approximately 175 wins, according to David, and a wreck she still has trouble talking about two years later.
Dirt track oval racing was a passion Pamala Wade growing up in Baxley, Georgia, before moving to Yulee as a teen and graduating from Fernandina Beach High in 1986.
“My dad sponsored dirt track cars and we were always there,” she said. “I worked on Saturday nights. Dad had a ticket and I was in the pits by 9 o’clock.”
The education that started with those nights in the pits continued after meeting her husband.
“He’s taught me and Austin how to do the lightweight stuff. Austin gets in there and helps change engines and transmissions and drive shafts … all sorts of things. My first car was a ‘73 Firebird my dad and I restored when I was 15 and I started driving at 16 because it took a year to restore it. And there was a lot of street racing.”
So you think she tore that car up by racing on the roads of her town?
“We were … we did … yes!” laughingly said the fourth-degree black belt who owned a cheerleading business in Palatka for 20 years, while raising her kids and beginning a career as a driver.
Wade Racing began in 1992 and has grown due to one major aspect, according to David Wade.
“The family aspect,” he said. “You can have a team, but if you don’t have family, it doesn’t work.”
David Wade said don’t expect to make a killing monetarily on the drag racing circuit, especially the one they’re in. A win can bring in $1,000 to $1,500, according to Pamala, but as David points out it gets sunk right back into the car.
“The back tires, you’re talking about $700 to $900 depending on brands, and maybe 40-45 (quarter-mile) runs on the tires,” he said. “It all depends on how many times you go racing in a season.”
“We don’t have big sponsors, so we go when the funds are available,” said Pamala Wade, a former beauty queen competitor and Miss Nassau County in 1986. “If you’re thinking about getting rich, forget it.”
Pamala’s passion for racing led her up Green Cove Springs Racetrack’s Top 10 twice. Racing in the Vega, Pamala got as high as third, then in the Corvette, she took second. It was a carburetor fire against the leader before the car was to take off that stopped her from getting to the top.
In drag racing, everything has to be precise. Those dragsters can go sideways or even up in the air as even an experienced driver like Pamala was reminded one night in June 2017 in Gainesville, the home of the Gatornationals. She took her Corvette to the line against her son in a test run, and 300 feet into the run, the tires broke loose, causing the car to go sideways into the right-side guardrails, ricocheted off it and came across into Austin’s lane for which he slowed up as she hit the guardrail in his lane and came to a stop.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” she said. “It’s all dark days.”
Pamala went through a depression, admitting she “bawled her eyes out,” but her husband never gave up on her career.
“He saw me come out here in the back laying out across the (shop) at 3 a.m. crying,” she said. “The next morning, he was out here working on the car. It took 10-12 hours every day for months (it was completely fixed just last month) putting it back together. Meanwhile, put me in the ‘37 green Chevy Coupe.
“I remember the first time, we were pulling into Orlando and my stomach is in knots and I’m a little teary-eyed, asking, ‘Do you think I’ve got this?’ and he said, ‘If I didn’t think you were capable of doing this, I wouldn’t be dragging this car down here.’ Once I got in and got to the line, the light changed and we went forward.”
Austin is the only one of the five kids Pamala and David have raised that who has shown a strong interest in racing. While helping his father with cars, he competes in 1972 Chevy Vega that his mother once drove.
Only 18, Austin Wade has already competed in two national events.
The Wades will be at Orlando Speed World Dragway for a number of events, including a big national event Nov. 7-10.
“I like to think I’m just racing myself and not think about my competition,” she said. “I don’t talk to people. I just watch (her husband). He’s my guide … total focus. When you are running almost 200 mph, there are so many things you think about, shifting and chutes. And a lot of times at the house, (David) will put us in the cars just to go through run-throughs.”
The Wades, whose main sponsors have been Bennett Racing, Sunshine Trophy, Toby’s Alignment, A-1 Speed Shop and Bohannon Battery, are just one of a handful of Putnam County teams who compete in the Street Outlaws division. Bennett Racing also helps sponsor the Wade team in this small, but tight-knit community of racing, as well as Edward Lawton and Tracy Davis, another female competitor.
“Ultimately, we’re building up for Austin to take over and make a name for himself,” said Pamala, who said she has aspirations in the sport for her year-old granddaughter. Pamala also said she has aspirations for young women to be competitive in whatever it is they try to attain.