'I'm just like everybody else': N.C. deputy chasing NASCAR dream

Deputy Caleb Costner said it would be a huge feat to be able to be the first law enforcement officer to race in NASCAR


By Sarah Marino
Gaston Gazette

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Gaston County Sheriff's Deputy Caleb Costner's love for race cars started as a youngster when his uncle took him to his first race. The stands were packed out with thousands of people, shoulder to shoulder, cheering on their favorite drivers.

"I remember watching Dale Earnhardt race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which was really cool," he said.

Caleb Costner and the number 11 asphalt pro series late model car he drives in races.
Caleb Costner and the number 11 asphalt pro series late model car he drives in races. (Photo/The Gaston Gazette via TNS)

Something about the rumble of cars, the smell of burnt fuel and tires, and the competitiveness of drivers drew Costner in.

"When I got home from church on Sunday mom and dad would turn on the TV and I watched NASCAR races," he said.

Costner also took inspiration from NASCAR TV commentator Jeff Hammond, who signed a copy of his book with a note for Costner reading "you're going to grow up to be like Tony Stewart one day."

"Seeing that he wrote that in there, it meant something to me. He was very involved in racing and he thought that maybe I could have a chance one day, so I always hung onto that hope that maybe I could do it," said Costner.

Now behind the wheel of the No. 11 car, Costner's nickname, The Lawman, was coined by Devan Mello, a photographer for WSOC TV news. Mello crossed paths with Costner at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department while on assignment.

Mello, an avid racing fan, got wind of Costner's love for racing and the two connected. Mello has turned Costner's journey in racing into an internet series in its second season.

Costner's progression in racing, starting with a four-cylinder car on dirt tracks and now racing in the Carolina Pro Late Model series on asphalt, has been fun to watch, Mello said.

"He basically went from playing little league baseball to now he's a step below the big leagues trying to make it - in a year," said Mello.

Coleman Montgomery, who runs the Gaston Talks Facebook page, allowed Mello to post "The Lawman" episodes on his platform. Each episode receives great feedback along with thousands of video views.

"The first episode goes up and we got 7,000 views. I mean, my jaw hit the floor," said Mello.

Mello and Costner spent the majority of last year filming at Carolina Speedway in Gaston County. In this series, Costner travels the Carolinas racing against heavy hitters in the sport, said Mello.

When Costner came back to Gaston County from his police job in Charlotte, Sheriff Alan Cloninger supported Costner's racing and welcomed him to represent the Sheriff's Office.

"I'm just like everybody else. I just happen to wear a badge and do something different than everybody else," said Costner.

Costner said it would be a huge feat to be able to be the first law enforcement officer to race in NASCAR all while representing Gaston County as the community he was born and raised in.

"There's no way when we [and Mello] sat down I ever would have thought that we would go from racing four-cylinder dirt cars to now asphalt pro late models and potentially NASCAR," said Costner.

It was a challenge for Costner to switch from dirt to asphalt given that's where he cut his teeth and did the majority of his racing, he said.

"It's cool to see that when we switched over I had some people still step up to support, but racing's all about money and unfortunately we won't continue to do the whole NASCAR deal until we continue to gain partners, sponsors and supporters," said Costner.

The next episode of the series will drop sometime in August, and will follow Costner's time racing in Daytona. The rest of the season will cover Costner's transition to the asphalt pro late model. Costner said Mello will work to put out an episode each month until November.

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