The décor in Stokely Caldwell’s office is a little different than that of most of his cohorts at the Robinson Bradshaw law firm. Akin to a mullet haircut — business over here, party over there — it is an interweaving of requisite stacks of law books and files, unopened bottles of victory champagne, autographed racing paraphernalia and life-sized mannequins draped in authentic NASCAR uniforms.
The newest addition to his collection is the 2014 TRAC (The Racing Attorney Conference) Star Award for his outstanding work in the field of motorsports law. The award, a miniature racing helmet bearing Caldwell’s name on the visor, is symbolic of the field and indicative of more than 20 years spent representing race car drivers and their teams and sponsors. It is awarded annually to one lawyer nationwide. The conference, held in Charlotte and Indianapolis on an alternating basis, was founded in 2008 through a partnership between the North Carolina Bar Association and Indianapolis Bar Association Sports and Entertainment Law Section.
Caldwell, referred to as “Stoke” by his friends and once dubbed “Law Dawg” by his first racing client, spent several years as a banker before attending law school. Upon graduation, he worked mainly in bank financing and merger and acquisition transactions. Today he practices in the area of sports and entertainment law, including work for the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Bobcats and individual athletes who undertake business ventures, but said that the lion’s share of his professional life is spent with NASCAR. He and his firm also handle matters related to INDYCAR, NHRA drag racing, Formula One stock car racing and local tracks.
Admittedly not a lifelong motorsports fan, Caldwell recalled conversations more than 40 years ago with his cousin, a big fan of racing legend Richard Petty, “The King.” That was Caldwell’s first introduction to the champion for whom he would one day serve as counsel.
“(Petty) is such a fine man, such a genuine and giving person,” Caldwell said. “He is never going to leave any fan unrequited. He’ll take pictures and sign autographs all day long and never sneer.”
When the NASCAR Hall of Fame opened just blocks from his uptown office, Caldwell said he joked with officials, telling them he couldn’t believe he wasn’t inducted. He chuckled when recalling their retort: “Well, we built it on S. Caldwell Street!”
He shared one honor that was especially memorable, if a bit arbitrary. Caldwell said he found himself ranked one year, according to late Charlotte Observer motorsports columnist David Poole, among the most influential people in racing.
“I think he only ranked me 20th because he wanted to write an article on people in the top 20, and he thought it would be interesting to write about someone nobody’s ever heard of,” Caldwell said. “It had nothing to do with being that influential. I just have the good fortune of working with a lot of really good clients to give us exposure.”