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Local boy with historical roots continues family tradition

The North Shore is famous for many things, including gorgeous seascapes, fine restaurants, beautiful homes, and tremendous history dating back to the 17th century.

One topic you might not associate with the North Shore is auto racing. The sport is predominant primarily in the southeastern part of the United States, where names like Petty, Unser, Earnhardt, and Foyt are legend.

Since 1986, however, a local driver has been bringing glory back to the northern part of the country – particularly the North Shore.

That was the year that Rowley’s own Chris Perley began racing supermodified cars for the International Supermodifieds Association (ISMA).

“My father was involved in racing before I was born,” says the “Rowley Rocket,” as the 38-year-old Perley is known on the circuit. “When I was 18, he bought me a car that I worked on. He didn’t just want to give me something, and he wanted to make sure that I truly appreciated what I had.”

Perley drove limited races at Hudson Speedway in Hudson, NH, for four years, and then bought a supermodified of his own. (For the uninitiated, a “supermodi-fied” is a tubular chassis car with an open wheel and a big block Chevy engine offset to the left side.)

“I never really got into the racing scene until I was 18,” Perley says. “I always watched the Indy 500, but never really went to the races back then.”

Local racers that he admired were Gloucester’s Bentley Warren and Scott Martel of Ipswich.

“I admired the way Bentley Warren raced, especially his attitude,” Perley says. “He was always so happy, and he’d race practically everything. Scott’s a lot older, and he still races supermodifieds.”

To make it in the ISMA, you have to enjoy going around in a circle at over 100 miles per hour for long stretches of time, and Perley certainly has a fascination fordoing so.

“I have a great penchant for speed,” he admits.

Though Perley is involved in a very contemporary sport, his family name goes back to the earliest days of his hometown.

The town of Rowley was first settled back in 1639 by the Reverend Ezekiel Rogers, who had sailed from the English village of the same name the previous fall.

In 1737, what’s now known as the Mighill-Perley house was built by Capt. Nathaniel Mighill. The captain had a daughter, Hannah, who would go on to marry a gentleman whose last name was Perley.

Their son, Capt. Nathaniel Mighill Perley, would later have one of the premier boats of that time, Country’s Wonder, which was built for him in 1814. Taking only eight weeks to complete, the ship weighed 110 tons and measured 63 feet in length and 19 feet wide. According to the Essex Register of May 3, 1814, “A vessel of upwards of 100 tons, belonging to Captain Perley, which he has been building in Rowley about two miles

Truly the captain had an adventurous and courageous spirit; the same spirit that now lives in his modern-day descendant. And Chris has a connection to the sea, too. For years, he’s worked in his family’s business, the Perley Marina, which is one of his racing sponsors.

“You can’t make a good living out of racing,” Perley says, explaining why he holds down a “day job” at the marina. “I’m sure many years ago, I had aspirations of driving in the Winston Cup, but I also had the family business and a young family, too.”

Despite these important responsibilities and obligations, however, Perley has been able to continue to drive and continue to improve.

“Chris has picked up a lot of experience over the years with pacing and timing,” says Vic Miler of Vic Miller Racing, with whom Perley has been riding since the mid-’90s. “A lot of guys slow down during the race to maintain decent tires, and to make sure they’re running smoothly. We’re able to maintain a pretty even keel, and Chris has done very well at it.”

Since joining with Miller (who has been involved in racing for over 40 years), Perley has been the runner-up for total points in supermodified action in 1996, 2002, and 2005.

“Vic is the only guy I’ve driven for, and we have a great relationship,” Perley says. “He’s truly been great to me.”

Perley was also the winner of the A.J. Michaels Award for sportsmanship in 2001 and 2002, and shared the honors in 2003.

“I’m very proud to have won that award,” Perley says. “[Michaels] was known to have loved the sport, and was a good sportsman that wanted to help everyone.”

While there are a small handful of races in the New England area (such as Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk, MA, Thompson Speedway in Thompson, CT, and Lee USA Speedway in Lee, NH), the majority of the circuit is in the Midwest, on tracks in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Last August, Perley won for the first time ever in Ohio, taking the 40-lap race over the half-mile track at the Mansfield Motorsports Speedway. Perley duplicated the feat in early October, this time coming in first over a 100-lap effort.

“They draw close to 25,000 fans,” Miller explains, “and there are usually 30 to 40 cars in each race!”

Between being a top-ranked racer and a successful local businessman, Perley would seem to have it all.

“I’m starting to do what my heroes did,” he says. “I’ve won at one of the top divisions and I still have the family business.”

Regardless of how many times the checkered flag is waved for him this season, however, Perley is doing something that he’s loved and enjoyed throughout his life. And that has already made Chris Perley a winner.