Larry T. Upton

I was born in Morgantown, Kentucky on December 13, 1940, to Lattney Earl Upton and Elizabeth (Betty) Allen Minton. My parents were descendents of people who had been in Kentucky since the early 1800s. The Uptons came into Kentucky in 1801 to claim farm land along the Green River in Warren County. The Mintons came in the mid-1800s as construction workers working on the locks and dams that were being built along the Barren and Green rivers.

Shortly after my birth my parents moved to Richardsville, the village where my father’s family had resided since 1801. Later, as WWII picked up, we moved to Bowling Green to be near my father’s job working with a defense contractor. That is where I grew up and attended elementary school. I had an idyllic childhood except for one thing: I had asthma, and I had it real bad!

My mother’s family were Mormons, probably the only Mormons in Bowling Green in the early 1940s. As a result, we were visited frequently by Mormon missionaries. In 1954, when I was 13 years old, we became good friends with Elder Lamar Reynolds, a missionary from Luna, New Mexico. As he neared the end of his term as a missionary, he suggested to my parents that I be allowed to go home with him as his parents owned a ranch high in the White Mountains. He thought that the climate in New Mexico would be good for my asthma. After much lobbying on my part and a good deal of thought by my parents, I moved to Luna. I have no idea what Elder Reynolds’ parents thought when he showed up with me in tow, but they treated me like a younger son. I had a terrific experience living with the Reynolds family, living a working ranch-type life, and even enrolling in the Luna elementary school as an eighth grader. To my surprise, I was readily accepted into the local community and had a great time. Most of all, I never had asthma again. About three months later, my parents arrived in Thatcher, Arizona, where they had friends, on December 31, 1954. I left Luna for Thatcher on January 1, 1955.

At the beginning of my sophomore year in high school, 1957, my family moved to Pima, Arizona, which was colonized by Mormon pioneers in 1879. It is located in the Gila River Valley in Graham County near Safford, the county seat. Pima has always been a fabulous town to me, and I still refer to it as my hometown. Pima is classic small town America where everybody knows everybody, and a large percentage of the residents are descendents of the town’s founders.

My high school years were great. My parents, having barely enough money to get by, followed the admonition that you can do anything you want as long as you can pay for it. As a result, I almost always had a job. I picked and chopped cotton, I was a bag boy in a grocery store, worked on a water-well drilling rig, and labored on the irrigation canals; but my best, most consistent employment was milking cows for the Alma Bryce Dairy. I learned that a dairyman never gets a day off; the cows were milked twice a day for 365 days a year. By the way, I still get up early every day, a by-product of dairying. The plain truth is, however, that I didn’t work twice a day 365 days a year. I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school, and Alma Bryce only worked me in the mornings and on weekends during ball-playing season so that I could make practice and games in the afternoons and evenings. But can you imagine how difficult it is to be at work at 5:00 a.m. after a practice or game? When I was working a full schedule I put in six hours a day seven days a week and still went to school. Let’s not talk about my grades.

During my senior year in high school, it dawned on me that I had no idea about what came next. Because several of my best friends were planning on going to college I thought that perhaps I should explore that possibility for myself. I’ll never forget sitting down with my parents and laying out my desire to go to Eastern Arizona College, the local community college in Thatcher. I really hadn’t given it much thought because college was never discussed as an option in my home. So I laid it out and said, “So, what do you think?” My father never said a word, but my mother looked at me like I was an alien from outer space, and said, “Son, you just better get out and get yourself a good job!” So much for higher education on the backs of my parents.

Fortunately for me, my parents had raised an independent child. I had some money saved and so I decided to go to college on the poor man’s plan. I worked and paid my own way for the first year. The next year I got married, worked full-time, and went to school on the long, slow, part-time plan. But I did it, and so did my wife.

I started working for Valley National Bank when I was 19 years old. I began my career at the bottom and, over time, boot-strapped myself up the ladder. Boot-strapping yourself up means that you get to do every single job that nobody else wants, and you get to do it for a long time. But if you persevere, get your education, and stay out of trouble, you can rise in the company. I became a branch manager, agriculture loan officer, commercial loan officer, and department manager. I became a pretty good trouble shooter and problem solver and, ultimately, First Interstate Bank wanted me. So I started over in a new bank as a bigger fish. And guess what I found out? The more responsibility I obtained and the more money I earned, I attended more meetings and had less fun. At the end of my career, I was living in Las Vegas, in my dream home, happily married, working with great people, and bored to death. It was time for a change, so my wife and I quit our jobs.

In June, 1996, we moved to Gilbert, Arizona and opened our own financial services business. We affiliated ourselves with Primerica Financial Services, a subsidiary of Citigroup. But we weren’t even settled when my father, Latt Upton, passed away on July 3, 1996. I had to take time out to rethink who my father really was, and I was surprised.

Most people who met Latt Upton would immediately recognize that he was an intelligent man; but he had very little formal education. In our society that usually means that you will earn your living with the strength of your back and the skill of your hands. That was my father; he was an auto mechanic. He loved it. He worked on cars all the time; there wasn’t really a day off. He could figure out any piece of equipment or machinery, and he never needed directions. But his love was automobiles and, of course, my mother. In spite of his hard work and his love of it, he never made a lot of money. My youthful observations of him, with his greasy fingernails and Dickey clothes, indicated to me that there must be a better way, so I opted to become a “professional.” Hence, I pursued education and a specialty. At age 55, I found myself burned out and bored. Sure, I could analyze a financial statement, explain the rudiments of economics, manage a loan portfolio, make a speech, and shuffle paperwork from pile A to pile B; but I couldn’t put the kids’ toys together at Christmas without pulling my hair out. I almost wasn’t my father’s son because I had distanced myself from his life as much as I possibly could. I realized at last that people like my father keep the world running for those of us who can’t.

Finally, at long last, I felt myself drawn to my roots. I decided to put some life back into my life, so I took up stock car racing at age 61. I raced for four seasons: one in the Bomber division, one in the Claimer division, and two in the Factory Stock division. Near the end of 2005, I realized that I was in over my head. First of all, the Factory Stock division at Manzanita Speedway is a very tough, competitive division. Sure, a lot of rookies race in the division every year, but year in and year out, there are a lot of veteran drivers who are really good. But the part of racing that really got me was the physical aspect. I did okay in the Bomber and Claimer divisions, but the two to three minute heat races and the four to five minute main events in the Factory Stock division wore me out. It wasn’t so much that I was tired after the race, but the combination of the 140 degree heat and the adrenaline rush took so much out of me that it required two days for me to recover my normal energy level. So I sold my car and retired. Now I serve on the board of directors of the Stock Car Racing Association and manage the Upton Racing Team which consists of my son, Justin, and Richard Kirn. But I kept my helmet and fire suit because you just never know….

Larry Upton races into the sunset...

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