Defying the Odds: Juan “Paco” Marshall’s Unique Path to Thunder Road Success

Juan Marshall is in the best years of his racing career. He’s coming off a season that saw him win his first career feature event, he’s recently added a second  Dodge Neon street stock to his stable, and he and his team are confident they can make a run at their first Thunder Road street stock championship in 2021. The man affectionately called “Paco” by his friends and fans at the track, has it pretty good for a hard-working local racer. 

It hasn’t always been this way, though. 

Marshall is originally from Taunton, Massachusetts, and grew up under difficult circumstances. While many of his fellow competitors discovered their love for speed at a race track, Paco found his on the streets. “When I was young, my step-dad would race the streets of Massachusetts, and I would ride along sometimes.” He said. “He taught me how to drive at a relatively young age, mainly so I could drive him home when he passed out drunk in the car. But I didn’t mind, because I got to drive his cars, and they were cool cars back in the day.” 

While the love of racing was there, Marshall went down the wrong path in his late teenage years. “Truthfully, I never expected that childhood dream to manifest and come true.” He told us.

Eventually, he decided that it was time to get away from Massachusetts and what he called a “toxic environment” and start a new life. After moving around New England he finally settled in Vermont. “I fell in love with the landscape and the way of life in the small valley.” He explained. “20 years later, I’m still here.” 

“Paco” Marshall waves to the crowd during driver intros for a 2020 event at Thunder Road. (Buzz Fisher photo)

In 2018, Marshall found a street stock at an affordable price, and, with the blessing of his longtime girlfriend Tabby, decided it was finally time to live out that childhood dream that once seemed so far out of reach. 

The only question left was where to race. “I asked a couple people who raced what the toughest track was, and they all said Thunder Road.” He explained. “So that’s where we decided to go.” Now that he’s at Thunder Road, he’s glad he made the decision to race there. “Now we’re hooked.” He said. “We love the track and traditions and have a huge love and respect for its history” 

Marshall worked hard learning how to drive the track, set up the car and everything else a racer needs to learn to be successful. In 2019, he won the Marvin Johnson Memorial, a race for street stock drivers who have yet to score their first victory. This past Labor Day, however, was a day he’ll remember for the rest of his life. 

Just days before the annual Labor Day Classic at Thunder Road, Tabby was involved in a terrible car accident that left her badly injured. He decided to take that Thursday’s race off, and was preparing to take the Sunday afternoon Labor Day event off as well, but she persuaded him to go and compete. “I strapped into that car and let the whole world melt away, and I let it all out on the line.” He said. “I won the heat and the feature that day, and I needed it. Our whole team needed it.” 

Marshall carries the checkered flag after his first career feature victory (Buzz Fisher photo)

Marshall’s emotional win was amongst the most popular wins at the track this season, and drivers from every division lined up to congratulate him on the triumph.

 While the circumstances obviously played into the outpouring of support after the win, the respect that he’s gained amongst his fellow competitors did as well. He was the winner of the Sportsmanship Award at the Thunder Road awards banquet in 2019, and takes great pride in acting as a role model to younger fans at the track. “I never really had anyone to look up to” He explained, “I contribute my troubled childhood to some of that. I try to be the role model I never had back then.” 

Marshall talks to a group of students next to his race car (Juan Marshall photo)

As for next season, “Paco” looks to continue to develop his racing program, while still having fun. After a few mechanical failures ended their chances at a championship in 2020, he’s added a second car to his team and is hoping that makes up for some of the hardships they endured last year. “I want a championship so bad I can see it, but even being in the top three would be an amazing accomplishment.” He said.

“I’m always going to have fun. Whether I win or wreck, I’m still chasing my dream and I know how fortunate I am.” 

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