Local Racing Promoter Spreads Sobriety Message



Ten years ago, Terry "Cowboy" Carson was on his knees in a Las Vegas hotel room praying that he could kick the alcoholism that had injured his esophagus and landed him in local jails.

Ten years ago, the Dana Point man's daughters thought he was a goner. Doctors told him he could die if he didn't get help.

Now the Carson family works together in a new business that promotes race-car drivers and runs a program that supports a San Juan Capistrano ministry focused on helping the addicted.

But how can you promote a ministry that mixes Alcoholics Anonymous and Jesus Christ using a sport that historically has derived much of its revenue from alcohol advertisers? The family thinks the sport is a good venue to help the ministry spread Carson's message.

"His story inspires hope, and maybe somebody needs to hear that," said Tonya Carson Goodbrand, the daughter in charge of Carson Racing's finances.

Besides, auto racing's sponsors aren't all from the alcohol industry, said Kristin Carson, the daughter in charge of photography, commercials and other branding items.

"NASCAR has expanded beyond beer and cigarettes. There's a lot of nutrition companies there, too, now," she said.


When Carson and his wife divorced, his daughters were in college. He never drank enough to get destructive when they were kids, but put a drink in him after the divorce and he was a different man.

"I became a 19-year-old in a 50-year-old's body," said Carson, now 65.

He came to California from his home state of North Carolina in the 1980s to work for Rick Hendrick, owner of several NASCAR teams and a large automotive chain. Then he worked as a consultant brought in to run auto dealerships and rental-car companies. He often would head to Las Vegas for business trips and drank a lot.

He drank so much and got himself into so many problems due to alcohol that his doctor told him and his family that his drinking would kill him if he didn't stop. In 2000, he was in Vegas and drank for 11 days straight.

"I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I got on my knees and prayed for help," Carson said. "Then I called an ambulance to take me into detox."

Rehabilitation programs are expensive, and Carson's family wasn't sure he would show up even if they put down the money. He had spent time in the Navy in the 1960s, so he had veterans benefits. His daughters put him on a bus to North Carolina to see his brother, who promised to get him back in working order. His brother took him to a Veterans Affairs hospital that ran a rehab program.

"You have to surrender. I hated that part," Carson said. "I had boxing gloves on since I was 3 or 4 years old. I was in the Navy in 1964. I was the wild guy of the bunch, the party animal.

"My story is not unique here. You hear the same story over and over again as the disease progresses."

This year he celebrated his 10th anniversary of being sober.

To mark the occasion, he wanted to start a sports-management business with his family. Carson Racing officially began in February, promoting a handful of drivers from NASCAR and Sprint Racing. The company currently is based in Orange County, but plans are to move to Las Vegas next year when racing season picks up.

"In sobriety, you can have what you want: success," Carson said.


About three years ago, Carson began attending services at The Effect, a San Juan Capistrano recovery ministry that played Christian rock and had a nonjudgmental nature that made him feel comfortable. The ministry has been criticized by Alcoholics Anonymous for bringing Jesus into the recovery process and by churches for not being religious enough. But pastor Dave Brisbin said the mixture of religion and recovery techniques can work for people.

In addition to Sunday services, the ministry hosts gatherings for people in recovery to tell their stories and lean on one another.

Carson said he believes in what The Effect does, so he wanted to find a way to help. If he could market racing, why couldn't he also market getting sober via a program with a catchy name like Race to Recovery? His company encourages local businesses to donate $100 to the ministry, and in exchange, Carson Racing will promote them through its website and social-media tools. Brisbin said the ministry has never had a company partner like this before.

"You got to be ready to get sober," Carson said. "You got to want it. In that hotel room in Vegas, I wanted it, and now we want to help others want it, too."

Contact the writer: [email protected], twitter.com/danapointnews or 949-492-5483

The Orange County Register

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