Jess Watson and his father, Johnny Tarkington, are regulars at Outlaw Motor Speedway.

OKTAHA — A couple of life-changing events — both involving affairs of the heart — have touched racing enthusiast Johnny Tarkington.

Tarkington first survived the physical trauma of a heart attack just over two years ago. Specialists inserted a stint into his heart to correct a blockage problem that “felt like someone was on my chest and jumping up and down everytime I tried to breath,” he said.

Then, a very short time later, Tarkington had an experience that affected his emotional heart — and like the physical ailment — was totally unexpected.

After years of little involvement, Tarkington was reunited with his son, Jess Watson, when Jess made a surprise visit to Tark’s Barber Shop. He dropped by to ask his dad to go with him to the races.

Tarkington accepted the invitation. While sitting to themselves in the grandstands, he said they “had a long talk” that eventually led to the healing of some old, old wounds.

“Let’s just say because of some family difficulties we didn’t communicate for 15 or so years and leave it at that,” said the 27-year-old Watson, who is a welder by trade.

“The important thing is we talked and now we’re having some quality time together,” Tarkington added. “Racing is allowing us to be together and to us, that’s more important than winning, although we do like to finish first.”

Watson said his father’s heart condition certainly had something to do with his decision to pay his father a visit, but added, “it was something both of us needed. I needed to know my dad and he needed to know me as a son. We’re both glad we’re together.”

The two have used a mutual love of stock car racing. Along with driver Aaron Barker from Checotah they co-own a stock car that competes in the Hobby Stock division at Outlaw Motor Speedway.

Tarkington jokes that he’s the “bag man,” the guy who seeks financing for the team. Watson is the idea man and car builder; and Barker the engine mechanic and the glue that holds everything together.

Tarkington and Watson are in their second year as co-owners while Barker joined the team this spring.

While Tarkington said the trio equally provides financing to keep the car on the track — and share the winnings as well — Muskogee businessman Terry Burrows has been a tremendous help, Tarkington said.

Watson said the team does not race to make money.

“It’s a hobby with us. The division classification (Hobby Stock) suggests that,” Watson added. “We’ve discovered there’s more important things in life than a black and orange car with 56 painted on the side.”

Tarkington said he, his son and Barker race for the love of the sport and for each other.

“I having a good time being around my son and if we weren’t involved in racing, it would be something else,” Tarkington said.

“Gosh, if we were building model airplanes together, I’d be happy.”

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