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The Doctor Isn’t In : Carver Trades His Chiropractic Practice for a Stock Car and Shot at a Dream

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Times Staff Writer

There are ample midlife crisis tales of men who leave their wives or the security of lifelong jobs to go spear fishing in Tahiti.

The symptoms are acute boredom, pressure, tension or just plain misery. The cure is sometimes senseless; the results are often disastrous.

Keeping this in mind, meet Dr. Michael Carver, a 37-year-old chiropractor from Mission Viejo. Make that ex-chiropractor. Last week, Carver sold his practice and a patient list of 1,000 and his home in Mission Viejo to pursue a dream.

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Carver is retiring from a six-year career in physical therapy to fulfill a lifelong dream of competing against Richard Petty, Bill Elliott and the rest of the stock car drivers.

“I’ve always done what other people expected of me,” Carver said. “I went to premed school, chiropractic school and then straight into my practice. Once I developed a good practice, there was never any time to do what I wanted to do.

“Racing is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I just decided it was time to try it before it was too late.”

Carver got an opportunity to drive last June when he attended a basic racing course at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, N.C., under former stock car driver Buck Baker. Carver was encouraged and returned to Rockingham a month later for an advanced course.

A month later, Carver was invited to return to Rockingham for the driving school’s championship series and won a 100-lap race featuring the top 10 students. He asked Baker, who won nearly 650 featured races during 30 years of racing, “Do I have what it takes to become a professional racer?”

Baker, who had doubted if Carver would succeed in the basic course, told him, “You’ve got the potential, don’t let your age hold you back.”

Carver’s next step was convincing his wife, Billie, that he was serious about leaving his practice to become a driver. Carver said his wife told him, “Let’s go do it.”

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So Carver sold the office equipment and list of 1,000 active patients eight days ago and retired. He placed a down payment on a Pontiac stock car four days later and has entered the American Race Car Assn. event in Atlanta in November.

He plans to compete in 30 races in 1989 and hopes to work his way up to the Winston Cup series and someday challenge Petty and Elliott.

Carver said many of his friends think he’s crazy. Baker gave him no better than a 1-in-10 chance of successfully making the transition. But Carver is looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m not a quitter,” he said. “I had some doubts before going to Rockingham because of my age. But from the first day on the track, I felt comfortable at the wheel of a stock car.

“It seems that my friends who are most negative about the idea are the ones who are the most jealous. A big part of my inspiration for doing this came from one of my patients, Wes Cooley.”

Cooley is a professional motorcycle road racer who was seriously injured in a crash several years ago. Doctors told him he might never race again, but he was rehabilitated and ultimately returned to the race track.

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“Wes told me, ‘Don’t let anyone decide what you’re going to do in life,’ ” Carver said. “Doctors told him to retire, but he decided not to quit. I decided if I want to go racing, I’m going to do it.”

Baker’s son, Buddy, has been a fixture on the stock car racing circuit for years. He said the sport requires a lot of time, interest and money.

“People are going to look at Mike and say, ‘He’s too old to drive,’ ” Baker said. “I admire the guy. He’s got the determination and the skill to drive. I’m a pretty good judge of whether someone is going to make it in this sport, and he’s certainly got the potential.”

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