HAMPTON – When Tim Brown looks up and sees packed stands for a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race, as he did at Langley Speedway a year ago, some of the regret of agreeing to do reality television subsides. And when a fan plunks down $15 for a t-shirt bearing Brown’s likeness, the notoriety doesn’t sting so much.
Other than that, Brown sounds like a guy who’d prefer to forget about his stint on the racing reality show MadHouse, which followed Modified drivers though the 2009 season at Bowman Gray in Winston-Salem, N.C. and aired on the History Channel for 12 episodes in early 2010.
Brown, who returned to Langley on Saturday to defend his title in the Newport News Shipbuilding 150, would rather folks thought of him as the guy who rallied to win here a year ago. And he certainly wishes they knew, that as manager of the suspension department at Michael Waltrip Racing, he’s easy to work for and appreciative of his subordinates efforts.
But they probably never will, because he was a reality star for a short time. And, if you’re familiar with the genre, you know that many of the so-called “reality” shows are scripted to produce drama rather than simply record life as it is.
“Every scene in my shop was filmed 15-20 times,” he said. “They’d still be trying to film a scene at 2 a.m. and I wasn’t getting any work done on the car.
“Then I’d have to get up at 4 a.m. and go to work.”
In addition to the kind of top-notch short track racing Modifieds invariably produce, the show aired plenty of in-the-pits conflict between the half-dozen or so drivers featured. Brown says he wasn’t much a part of that, because he doesn’t believe in trash-talking his competitors.
“I’m not going to talk junk about other drivers today, tomorrow or 10 years from now,” he said.
Brown hoped the show would focus on his and the team’s work ethic and challenges preparing the car. But, he said, after filming in the shop for a couple of weeks, producers told him they found that to be “the most boring thing in the world.”
So, he said, the producers asked him to play the part of the harsh taskmaster who gripes at his crew when the least bit dissatisfied with their shop work. Brown says he refused at first, because he’s grateful for the hours they put in for free, but relented when crew members asked him to reconsider.
Brown admits he saw sponsorship dollars in his future if he became nationally recognizable, so he gave in. Regrettably, he says he played the part too well, threatening, for example, to kick a crew member’s butt after finding a scratch on the car.
“My crew called me up after the first episode and said, `See how you’re treating us?’ ” Brown said. “I said, `You’re the ones who wanted me to do it.’ “
“It was tough, because that guy on the show isn’t me.”
So weekends at the race track these days sometimes include meeting fans who simultaneously want his autograph and his hide.
“They’ll say, `You have nice races cars, but you’re a jerk and I’d like to beat your head in with a hammer,’ ” Brown said.
But they come in droves to watch him, and other MadHouse alumni like brothers Jason and Burt Myers, both of whom raceed at Langley on Saturday. And if the show popularized short-track racing further, that’s a plus for Brown.
“MadHouse helped with attendance,” he said. “And if it got kids into racing who are staying off of drugs and not drinking, I can deal with it.”