A few autographs weren’t enough to satisfy Casey Carden.
Then a preteen, Casey and father Charles were attending one of the first Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, as they have done every year since its inception in 1998. One of Charles’ friends suggested Casey ask some drivers to sign his event T-shirt.
So he did, hunting down every driver he idolized at the race track that has become so intertwined with his life.
“In everything he has ever done, he has always been very determined,” Charles said. “He has stayed focused on trying to make it happen as a racecar driver.”
That diligence has gotten the Johnson High School alum to where he is now — a participant in Friday’s headlining IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. It’s a support series to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the main draw of the entire weekend and the race Casey has aspired to all
“He once told me, ‘Dad, one day I’m going to race at the Petit Le Mans,’” Charles said. “His ultimate dream is to run the big race on Saturday.”
A top-five finish in the two-and-a-half-hour race, Casey said, would be a big step toward getting there. He and teammate Ethan Low are driving the No. 6 Porsche 997 for Rebel Rock Racing, and Casey is seeking to improve on his 11th-place finish in the same event last year.
This year marks Casey’s third professional race at Road Atlanta, the first of which occurred in 2014 in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series.
But there was a time when he was just a face in the stands at Road Atlanta.
Casey was only six weeks old when his parents brought him to the track where Charles, an avid fan of motorsports himself, would often club race formula cars. As if the Cardens weren’t already hooked on racing, they moved from Stone Mountain to a neighborhood just one mile away from Road Atlanta in 1998.
“Growing up around the race track certainly influenced me to want to be a part of it,” Casey said. “I have always basically been next door to the track. It’s one of those things where there’s a lot of pride of being involved in the local event.”
Charles, a 20-year Lamborghini mechanic at Motorcars of Georgia, said Casey immersed himself in motorsports on a budget.
He began racing go-karts at 12 and two years later started volunteering at a race shop at Road Atlanta. At 16, Casey’s parents took him to a Sports Car Club of America school in Savannah to receive his racing license.
He performed so well there, Charles said, that the school waived his novice requirement and immediately gave him a license.
“Because I’ve been a student of racing for years, I always went to the race track with Casey with an expectation of how we were going to do,” Charles said. “He always seemed to exceed my expectations.”
Casey, 27, sustained his racing career from there. He volunteered at Road Atlanta until he was hired as a road instructor in 2008, spending the first part of his college career at Gainesville College because of its proximity to the track.
The Hall County resident worked his way up to chief driving instructor for the Skip Barber Racing School at Road Atlanta after graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in economics in 2013. Casey now travels the country managing a race series and showcasing cars for manufacturers, a career path that simultaneously funds his racing endeavors and increases his knowledge of the sport.
“I would say it was a very self-fulfilling journey because I don’t come from a family that has a lot of money,” he said. “ … It’s one of the things where it has not only afforded me to live my dreams, but it has also afforded me the ability to see a lot of cool things.”
But there’s still one thing Casey wants to experience more than anything else.
That, of course, is the Petit Le Mans, but as of Wednesday afternoon he and Low were solely focused on how to best attack the track that’s like a second home for Casey. He’s just thrilled to have successfully grown from spectator to participant, a transition he said “makes me feel whole.”
Charles recalled when his sons would squeeze in a little extra spectating as boys. When Petit Le Mans rolled around, Casey and younger brother Sam would sneak through the woods near their house and watch the cars practice, drawn to the allure of Road Atlanta.
“Now he’s got a seat where he’s on the inside looking out,” Charles said, “instead of on the outside looking in.”