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Trading in a buggy for dreams of NASCAR
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Marlin Yoder with the truck he raced at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina.

The closest Marlin Yoder came to having a set of wheels as a youth in an Amish family was hitching the horses to the family’s buggy.

He left that world behind to pursue his dream of NASCAR glory.

Now 22, Yoder has been gone from his family’s home since age 17½. He’d long entertained thoughts about living as one of the “English,” as the Amish refer to outsiders, and he moved in with a friend who’d left the same Amish community a couple of years earlier.

Until Yoder was nine, his family lived in an even stricter Amish environment in their native Missouri, but his parents decided to uproot their brood of six kids and move to the rural Hillpoint area. His dad owns a sawmill and farms on the side. His family has more conveniences than some Amish families, utilizing a well run from an air-operated pump; thus having running water for a shower and flush toilets. His mom uses a wringer washing machine with a belt-driven engine, but still must hang clothes outside  –  even in the most bitter cold of winter.

Yoder grew up hearing and speaking German long before he learned to speak English, and his parents still speak German in their day-to-day life. His clan goes to school only through the eighth grade and he now realizes that the subject matters taught are limited to English grammar and composition, spelling, a little bit of U.S. history, basic arithmetic, and no science. Until the other day he had never heard of Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, and only recently learned about World War II and Adolf Hitler. “I learn new stuff all the time,” he says.

At his parents’ home, he got along with his younger siblings, a sister one year younger, twin brother and sister four years younger, and twin brother and sister seven years younger, but he still had to keep secrets from them.

The biggest secret Yoder had was that he possessed a forbidden battery-operated AM/FM radio, obtained for him by the friend who earlier left the Amish community, who also kept Yoder supplied with batteries to run the radio. Of course, Yoder had to sneak from the family home at night in order to see the friend, who once let Yoder drive his pickup truck with automatic transmission.

Some nights Yoder would feign sleepiness so he could climb in bed and put in his radio’s earbuds. He’d listen to music, mostly country-western, but his greatest joy was listening to NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) races. His favorite racer is Jimmy Johnson and Yoder dreamed then and dreams now that he will one day attain his status.

A bad fight ensued when Yoder’s dad found and destroyed the first radio, but before long Yoder’s friend got him another one and Yoder continued listening to NASCAR races and dreaming of a future far away from the Amish way of life.

“I knew that’s not the way I wanted to live,” he says.

The discord with his dad came to a head when Yoder got a hold of his first pack of cigarettes. Yoder smoked 19 of the 20 and hid the pack with the remaining cigarette in his room. When his dad found that he hit the roof and grounded his son; even from church gatherings. After the first week passed Yoder went to a neighbor’s house to use the phone and called the friend who’d left the Amish community. The friend came to get him, let him stay at his place, and got him a job.

Yoder is all but cut off from his family. He said that his mother calls him on the phone once in a while, but his father said he shouldn’t bother coming to visit unless he wears Amish clothes and leaves his motor vehicle down the road.

While he was growing up, he saw no TV or movies and so reading books was a major form of entertainment. Even then, the subject matter was limited; with “The Little House on the Prairie” books and “The Black Stallion” being some favorites.

When Yoder first left the Amish community he was practically hypnotized by TV. “You couldn’t tear me away from it,” he says. “It was so new to me. It didn’t matter what was on. It was amazing.”

As for movies, he prefers comedies, but he now has a girlfriend and she likes horror movies. At first he was pretty frightened by them, but he’s become more accustomed to watching them now.

While still living with his folks, another activity that was largely unknown to him was eating fast foods. Once or twice he’d been to a Pizza Hut or other restaurant, but that was very rare. His mother cooks three meals a day, virtually every day —  even foods that might seem surprising to an outsider, such as spaghetti. She bakes bread and pies from scratch.

“I miss my mom’s cooking,” Yoder says. “It’s the only thing I miss from home.”

Since he was a half-year shy of 18 when he left home, and his parents would not sign a permission slip, Yoder couldn’t get a driver’s license until he was 18. By then, he had a bank account and phone plan for proof of address and he got a learner’s permit. For two weeks he practiced driving with his friend and then passed the test on his first try. “Driving came naturally to me,” he says.

In 2009 he started racing gokarts in Wisconsin Dells and always came close to beating time trials. “I got hooked on it,” he says.

The place closed for the winter, but Yoder says he returned with a vengeance in 2010. “Every time I beat their time and I got seven trophies that year alone,” he says. “I wanted to race. It’s all I wanted to do.”

By then he’d experienced a great thrill. “The first time I saw NASCAR on TV was the best moment of my life,” he says. “From the middle of February to November, it goes most of the time. It’s always on weekends and it’s in different places. Tracks are located all over the U.S. and even in Canada.”

This past December Yoder took a big step towards achieving his dream of racing. He went to Newton, N.C., to Hickory Motor Speedway and paid a fee to be provided with a Lafferty Motor Sports truck to take part in a pickup truck race. “This entitled me to test with the team to see if I’m capable; if I have the talent and potential to drive their equipment at a racetrack,” he says. “I succeeded very well. The representative was impressed.”

Now Yoder needs to find sponsors so he can race cars in NASCAR for Lafferty Motor Sports. “They believe that, if I find sponsors, it proves I want it bad enough,” he says. The sponsors would get exposure on “Chris Lafferty’s Motorsports TV” and with their logos on the car.

Presently, Yoder lacks experience and so he must start with the NASCAR street stock division (non-televised), which runs on short tracks in the eastern U.S., in places like Virginia, Florida, and North and South Carolina. “Hopefully, I’ll work up to the Sprint Cup series,” he says.

In the meantime, Yoder continues his employment in roofing and in tearing down barns and outbuildings.

Yoder has come a long way from the simple Amish way of life in which he was raised.

“I have learned a lot since I left the Amish community,” he says. “I didn’t know how to use a microwave oven or a TV remote control and now I have the opportunity to follow my dream of driving for a NASCAR team.”