Sheet metal worker by day, race car driver on weekends

Sponsored by union-signatory Swan Island Sheet Metal, Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 member Chris West drove his 1978 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu #7W at River City Speedway earlier this year.

By Mike Weber

Nearly every weekend throughout the summer, Chris West competes in stock car races. West, 44, is a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 employed at Swan Island Sheet Metal in Portland. West, who lives in Woodland, Washington, joined Local 16 in February following a 17-year career as a nonunion truck driver.

West recently concluded a very unusual race season: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local race tracks either opened later than normal and had a shorter race schedule, or didn’t open for business at all this year.

Sunset Speedway in Banks, Oregon, a popular motorsports facility that many drivers compete at, was unable to open this year. The track is in Washington County, which has been in Phase 1 of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s reopening plan. Phase 1 only allows 25 people at outdoor events.

West competed most often at River City Speedway in St. Helens, Oregon, in Columbia County. The county is in Phase 2, which allows 250 people at events such as stock car racing.

West capped the season by entering River City Speedway’s Oct. 3 season finale. He drove his Swan Island Sheet Metal sponsored 1978 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu to a second place finish in the 30-lap Sportsman Division main event on the quarter-mile clay oval track at the Columbia County Fairgrounds motorsports facility.

West entered five races at St. Helens this season, recording four second place finishes and a win on July 18. On Sept. 5-6, he notched consecutive second place Sportsman finishes and earned $920.

West also competed at race tracks in Cottage Grove and Lebanon, Oregon, and at Elma, Washington. He raced in 11 events this season, and accumulated top-five finishes in every race.

West, a 27-year motorsports veteran, has many friends and family members on his race team, including wife Beka, daughters Kaylie and Olivia, and brother-in-law and pit crew chief Jason Harton. His sponsors are also key members of his team, including John Gaynor (owner of Swan Island Sheet Metal), Maaco of Vancouver, Chuck Jones Automotive, and Bodys and Vinyl by Zippy.

Mike Weber is a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 16.

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