Bluffton driver A.J. Frank at home in return to racing

Fresh off the water, a new boat captain has plans to hit the road again.

Or, more appropriately, the dirt track.

Bluffton resident A.J. Frank, a professional race car driver for the better part of 20 years, hopped through the window of a Warrior chassis Late Model at Oglethorpe Speedway in Pooler, Ga., earlier this month for a 25-lap competition.

It was his first time racing for about three years, after which Frank said he felt pretty good, all things considered.

"We're learning," Frank said of the car and the crew.

After years spent traveling from city to city on the Hooters Pro Cup circuit and the NASCAR All Cup Series, Frank, now 39, settled into life as a crew chief and coach in recent years. Working with cars, and driving them, has been a family tradition. A.J.'s grandfather and father, Peter, both raced. When A.J. was 6, Peter Frank said he and his wife would hold their son's motorcycle up at the start of each race and catch him at the end -- his feet still couldn't touch the ground. A.J. attended his first race when he was two weeks old.

In that sense, returning to Oglethorpe, where he will compete in a car sponsored by Tommy Burrows of Tommy's Towing in Bluffton, is like coming home.

"Racing locally is how I got my start," Frank said. "Racing was more or less a hobby for my dad and I. It was a lot of fun back then. A lot of the guys that I raced against 18 years ago are still there. I just brings back a lot of memories."

Those are memories of afternoons and evenings on the hard-packed dirt -- one of the better dirt tracks around, Frank said -- making his name and preparing for a career that saw him shoot as high as the NASCAR Nationwide Series, if only for a few races.

He's still racing for a purse, in "some of the most radical race cars on the planet."

"I've raced all over, but the (dirt Late Model car) is like nothing I've ever driven in my career," Frank said.

Never one to be content with the breezy responsibilities of retirement, Frank continues to do things his own way. Now working for Outside Hilton Head, Frank proudly announces that he recently secured his captain's license. He now makes his living -- at least some of it -- on the water, at the helm of a vessel. It isn't quite racing, but it'll do for now. Still, Frank was excited to get back in his vehicle of choice, one he's made his home over two decades.

"To be honest, I was surprisingly relaxed," Frank said of racing again. "I felt like I never left. I felt like 18 years ago was last week."