Getty Images

Bill Elliott, Ray Evernham back behind the wheel at Road Atlanta for Georgia Speedfest

1 Comment

NASCAR may be enjoying its first off week of 2018, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see some NASCAR legends wheeling it around a track this weekend.

If you’re in the vicinity of Braselton, Georgia, you can see NASCAR Hall of Famers Bill Elliott and Ray Evernham in action.

The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli is racing at Road Atlanta this weekend as part of Georgia Speedfest, and Elliott and Evernham are taking part.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a real Bill Elliott comeback if the native of Dawsonville, Georgia, wasn’t behind the wheel of the No. 9.

Jeff Gordon among nominees for 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

4 Comments

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon headlines the list of nominees for the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class, which was announced Tuesday on NASCAR America.

Gordon, who ranks third on the Cup all-time wins list with 93 and helped broaden the sport’s appeal, is in his first year of eligibility.

Should he be among the five selected for the 2019 Hall of Fame Class, he would follow team owner Rick Hendrick (2017 class) and crew chief Ray Evernham (2018 class).

There are 20 nominees for the class. Fifteen are holdovers from last year. Gordon is among the five new names to the list. Voting is expected to take place in May with the class inducted in January 2019.

Joining Gordon, 46, as first-time nominees are: Harry Gant, John Holman, Ralph Moody and Kirk Shelmerdine.

Gant, 78, competed in NASCAR from 1973-94, winning 18 races and 17 poles. He won four consecutive races in September 1991. He remains the oldest Cup winner. He was 52 years, 7 months, 6 days when he won at Michigan in August 1992. He’s also the oldest pole winner in series history. He was 54 years, 7 months and 17 days when he won the pole at Bristol in August 1994.

Shelmerdine, who turns 60 on Thursday, won four championships as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt in 1986-87 and 1990-91.

Holman and Moody formed one of the sport’s most famous teams. Between 1957-73, Moody and Holman built cars that earned 83 poles and won 96 times. They won the 1968 and ’69 titles with David Pearson. Holman died in 1975. Moody died in 2004.

The other 15 nominees from last year are:

Davey Allison … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1992 Daytona 500. He was the 1987 Rookie of the Year. He died in a helicopter crash in 1993 at Talladega.

Buddy Baker … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1980 Daytona 500. He was the first driver to eclipse the 200 mph barrier, doing so in 1970.

Red Farmer … Records are incomplete but the 1956 modified and 1969-71 Late Model Sportsman champ is believed to have won well more than 700 races. Continued racing beyond 80 years old.

Ray Fox … Renowned engine builder, car owner and race official. He built the Chevrolet that Junior Johnson won the 1960 Daytona 500 driving. Fox won the 1964 Southern 500 as a car owner with Johnson as his driver.

Joe Gibbs … His organization has 148 Cup wins and four Cup titles (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Tony Stewart in 2002, 2005 and Kyle Busch in 2015).

Harry Hyde … Crew chief for Bobby Isaac when Isaac won the 1970 series title. Guided Tim Richmond, Geoff Bodine, Neil Bonnett and Dave Marcis each to their first career series win.

Alan Kulwicki … 1992 series champion who overcame a 278-point deficit in the final six races to win title by 10 points, at the time the closet margin in series history. He was the 1986 Rookie of the Year. He was killed in a plane crash in 1993.

Bobby Labonte … 2000 series champion who won 21 Cup races. He was the first driver to win an Xfinity title and a Cup championship in a career.

Hershel McGriff … Made his NASCAR debut at age 22 in the 1950 Southern 500 and ran his final NASCAR race at age 84 in 2012. Was selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

Roger Penske … Team owner whose organization has won 107 Cup races and one series title. Has been a car owner in auto racing for more than 50 years.

Larry Phillips … Weekly short track series driver believed to have more than 1,000 career wins. During an 11-year span, he won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned starts on short tracks.

Jack Roush … Team owner whose organization has won 137 Cup races and two series titles (Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004). Team has won more than 300 races across NASCAR’s three national series.

Ricky Rudd … Won 23 Cup races, including 1997 Brickyard 400. He is known most as NASCAR’s Ironman, once holding the record for consecutive starts at 788. He ranks second in all-time Cup starts with 906.

Mike Stefanik … Nine-time NASCAR champion with his titles coming in the Whelen Modified Tour and the K&N Pro Series East.

Waddell Wilson … Famed engine builder and crew chief. He supplied the power for David Pearson’s championships in 1968 and ’69 and Benny Parsons’ 1973 title. Wilson’s engines won 109 races. He won 22 races as a crew chief, including three Daytona 500 victories.

Nominees for the Landmark Award are Alvin Hawkins Sr., Barney Hall, Janet Guthrie, Jim Hunter and Ralph Seagraves.

Hawkins established Bowman Gray Stadium with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

Hall was a broadcaster for 54 years from 1960-2014.

Guthrie was the first woman to race in a  Cup superspeedway event.

Hunter was a journalist, track promoter and longtime NASCAR executive.

Seagraves started RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company’s sponsorship of NASCAR.

 and on Facebook

Daytona 500 victory 50 years in the making for Austin Dillon’s tire changer

Photo: Dustin Long
Leave a comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — The younger members of Austin Dillon’s team, full of adrenaline-fueled energy and excitement, celebrated their Daytona 500 victory Sunday with a late-night visit to a tattoo parlor to permanently etch their achievement on their rear end.

Terry Spalding didn’t make it that far. It was time to turn in.

That’s OK, Sunday was a big enough day for the 50-year-old front tire changer, who experienced his first Daytona 500 win.

Yes, Spalding is 50 years old and changes tires for a Cup playoff team. Age alone gives him a different perspective on the Daytona 500 victory.

“I’m really able to appreciate it,’’ Spalding told NBC Sports. “I’ve been doing it 20-some years. Only since I’ve been at RCR in the last seven or eight years have I really been able to win the races that I won.’’

Dillon says Spalding doesn’t need a Daytona 500 ring to note how special he is.

“Terry is just a champion in life, period,’’ Dillon said. 

Spalding grew up the son of a racer in Pennsylvania and moved to North Carolina to pursue a job in the sport in 1990 — the same year Dillon was born.

Along the way, Spalding has worked in Cup for car owners such as Travis Carter, Ray Evernham, Richard Petty, Michael Waltrip, Richard Childress. Spalding has gone over the wall to service cars for drivers such as Jimmy Spencer, Elliott Sadler, Tony Raines, David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Dillon.

Spalding went to in Victory Lane at Indianapolis in 2011 when Paul Menard won. Spalding was in Victory Lane last year when Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600.

That he is still going over the wall is a feat considering the radical changes for pit crew this season. With NASCAR eliminating one of the over-the-wall positions, pit crew members are having to redefine their roles. Those that haven’t adjusted as well have lost jobs or been dropped down a series. Spalding’s duties have changed. He now carries a 60-pound tire with along with his air gun.

He’s always managed to adjust through the years. When he turned 40, he often was asked how much longer would he wanted to change tires. He randomly said 50. It’s a nice round number. Realistically, as pit crews have become more athletic and younger — many are in their 20s — that seemed like a pipe dream.

Now that he’s 50, how much longer will he go?

“I feel as good as I did when I was 40,’’ Spalding said. “I thought about when I can’t go over the wall anymore, starting to coach.’’

He’s got to find time. He plays in the same basketball league Denny Hamlin hosts at his house that includes Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Blaney and others. In recent years, Spalding competed in slalom ski races. He’s also played in a roller hockey league. He’s competed in mountain bike races.

“I still go in the weight room, I don’t hit it as hard as I used to,’’ Spalding said. “I like to do things … and stay active that way.’’

He’s not ready to quit any time soon.

“I want to go as long as I can,’’  he said. Barring some freak injury, I honestly think 55 is no problem.’’ 

That would be at least five more Daytona 500s.

 and on Facebook

After ‘rough year,’ Rick Hendrick seeks to change fortunes with new approach

1 Comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Even with a Cup championship two years ago, it was evident that Hendrick Motorsports’ performance was slipping.

Victories came less frequently. Then last year, stage wins were rare and other teams led more laps.

“None of us were happy about last year,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said. “It was a rough year, when you go to the race track and you just don’t think you can win. You’re average, and you’re just not leading laps. We didn’t lead laps, and that’s not us.’’

The question was what could be done to return the sport’s winningest organization in the past quarter century to its dominant ways.

The answer was to change the culture.

A four-car operation, Hendrick Motorsports had morphed into two two-car entities. It made it easier for the teams to slip into that direction working in separate buildings. The literal walls helped create virtual barriers for the organization.

“It’s all about information sharing these days,’’ said Jeff Gordon, who operates at Hendrick in an executive-level position. “You’d be surprised how that gap can be created even when one shop is 60 to 70 yards away from the next shop and now that’s not the case. We’ll see if it works the way that they hope that it will, but I think it’s definitely going to improve.’’

The struggles were evident last year. Hendrick Motorsports’ four victories — three by Jimmie Johnson and one by Kasey Kahne — were its fewest since 2000.

Last year also continued a decline in victories for Hendrick. The organization won 13 races in 2014, nine in 2015, five in 2016 and four last year.

Hendrick’s nine wins the past two seasons tied for fourth among Cup teams. Joe Gibbs Racing had 20 victories during the same time.

Such struggles were reinforced at the banquet in Las Vegas.

“I left there pissed off,’’ Johnson said. “That sucked. I knew after we got eliminated from the Round of 8, I knew our championship hopes were closed. To relive the highlight reels, all of that, it’s like, ‘Damn, I want to be that guy. I want to get back and be that guy.’ ’’

For Johnson to again be that guy and Hendrick Motorsports to again be unquestionably the sport’s elite team, Hendrick had to make changes.

That meant the teams working closer together, restructuring upper management and changes to the driver lineup.

Johnson, 42, is the only one among Hendrick’s four drivers this season who has won in Cup. He’s also old enough to be the father of his three teammates — 24-year-old Daytona 500 pole-sitter Alex Bowman, 22-year-old Chase Elliott and 20-year-old rookie William Byron.

They’re leaning on him but Johnson admits they could show him some things as well.

I think it’s going to be important for me to understand their language, how they describe things, then understanding how to put that into the way I describe a car, the sensations I’m looking for,’’ the seven-time champion said.Their effort level is going to be really high. We might get some inconsistent feedback getting started until they can dial in at 100 percent and identify with that. But I’m excited for a fresh perspective.’’

That’s the key for the organization in all areas — a fresh perspective.

After shuffling duties for some executives last year, Hendrick needed to change how his race team operated.

“We want to live together, we want to be in one area, we want to have the best guys setting up the plate, building all the cars the same, working in the wind tunnel and sharing,’’ Hendrick said.

“I’m excited about it. I think when you see the guys in the garage, they’re working together. They’re all working on the cars together. And so it’s kind of tearing down the walls of one team versus the other team. So you guys won’t have to ask me, why is the 48 car getting all the good stuff and the 9 car is not, and the sponsors won’t, either, because they’re all the same.’’

But why did it get this way? The notion of an organization operating as one is not new. Toyota turned it into a championship effort last year with Furniture Row Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing working as one in many areas. Team Penske and Wood Brothers also used that model, helping the Wood Brothers win a race last  year for the first time since 2011.

Former Hendrick crew chief Ray Evernham understands the challenge his boss faced in not making a change earlier.

“Anytime you go into a cultural that has the legacy of winning that they do, it’s very hard to change that culture,’’ Evernham said. “Changing cultures is one of the hardest things you’re going to do.

“When you look at the handwriting on the wall, as the money shrinks in this sport, the amount of shared resources has to increase. Rick Hendrick obviously is a smart businessman. He sees that. I think it’s something that he’s wanted to do for a while and met some resistance here and there.’’

Now is the time to see if it works.

“In all of my years in this sport and my company, we have never worked this close together, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to see,’’ Hendrick said. “So the proof is going to be when we get down to the playoffs. There’s some awful good teams in that garage area. There’s some awful good cars that are not going to be in the playoffs. But I think we’re just going to get better and stronger.’’

 and on Facebook

20 years later, memories of Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 win remain fresh

Andy Lyons /Allsport
Leave a comment

After so many years of trying and so many years of frustrations, Dale Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500 on this date 20 years ago.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!’’ he said in Victory Lane.

“Can you believe it? We won.’’

One of the sport’s greatest drivers had won everything else during Daytona Speedweeks but the sport’s biggest race until Feb. 15, 1998.

No more heartbreaks.

But Earnhardt wasn’t the only one celebrating. That day remains memorable to many who witnessed it either at Daytona or watching on TV.

Here are their memories of seeing Earnhardt win the Daytona 500 for the only time in his career:

Austin Dillon (age 7 in 1998)

“That was a special moment. I didn’t really know what was going on at the time, how big of a moment I was being a part of (in Victory Lane). I remember doing the hat dance. I thought that was really cool. I was collecting a lot of hats that day. But the significance of everything, I was just kind of celebrating with everybody. I didn’t really know what was going on.’’

Ty Dillon (age 5 in 1998)

“That memory is really important to me. My brother and I were at MRO, which is where all the kids still go. My grandma ran over and said we won the race, and we had no clue what the significance of that race was but we knew we were going to Victory Lane. I remember just the excitement and the fun and everybody was so excited. That hit me pretty deep. I was 5 years old. From the time I stepped in a race car for the first time and when I won my first race, that’s when it hit me that it was what I wanted to do because I wanted to live that moment that I had in Victory Lane when I was 5 years old. That thrill of victory in that moment was what drives me still to this day to be a race car driver.”

CHOCOLATE MYERS (Gas man for the No. 3 team that won)

“So, we finally do our celebration and our Victory Lane and our high-fives and we’ve got to go home. We’ve got to be at work the next day. There is no party for the team back then. For me, (wife) Caron and I either had the third car or a truck load of parts so we’ve got a dooley and a trailer and I’m thinking the third car in it that we’ve got to leave here. We’ve got to drive home man. It’s already late. We’re in traffic. It’s like 9:30 or 10 o’clock (at night) and we’re in Jacksonville, and I’m going I ain’t going to make it. I started at 5 o’clock this morning, not going to make it.

“So we decided we’re going to get us a (hotel) room, we’re going to get up early the next morning, maybe five and get home as soon as we can. I know this sounds stupid and I know this sounds corny … I walked into the Holiday Inn and the lady said, ‘Can I help you?’ I said ‘We just won the Daytona 500!’’ It was the first human being outside of the race track that I saw that I could tell it to. It was like the greatest thing I was ever able to say. We just won the Daytona 500!’’

RAY EVERNHAM (Jeff Gordon’s crew chief in that 1998 race)

“Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s any secret that I was a Dale Earnhardt fan even before I came to Cup. It was always mixed emotions every time we were racing with them.

“I remember (I) probably busted up a stopwatch or clipboard when we busted that cylinder because we were running third with three, four laps to go. It was right there towards the end. We were going to be in the mix because our car was really good. I think we broke a valve spring or something like that. It was about finishing, not getting way behind in points.

“Honestly, I don’t remember what happened at the end of the race. I realized when it was over that Earnhardt won it. I started to walk back to the pit area. I saw everybody lining up. I jumped in line with them to shake his hand. Again, an honor to have raced against him. To be there, shake his hand, be part of that line, definitely did that.

“Really happy that we were there that day.  As I said, I did get to shake his hand.

Aric Almirola (age 13 in 1998)

“I wasn’t at that race, but I remember watching it. Actually, I think that year we were on a ski vacation out west in Colorado, so we were sitting in our log cabin that we had rented for the week and watched that race.  That was a really special race to watch and to finally see Dale Earnhardt win the Daytona 500, and I think what made that such a fan favorite and even a garage and industry favorite was people had seen how close he had been so many times. 

“I think the first couple times that he lost the fans that loved him were devastated and the fans that hated him were happy. Eventually, after the guy lost it and was so close so many times, hell, even the people that didn’t like him wanted to see him win the Daytona 500. I was a huge Dale Earnhardt fan. My grandfather was a big Dale Earnhardt fan, so our whole family was big Dale Sr. fans. I can’t remember exactly how I celebrated, but I’m sure I was jumping up and down on the couch and happy and excited, and then probably threw my ski gear on and went and hit the chair lift.”

Kyle Busch (age 12 in 1998)

“I’d have to say I must have been at home and laying on grandma’s floor, sitting on grandma’s floor, staring at the television, watching that race. That’s about what I can remember. I remember the year before vividly watching that race and thinking, Dale is going to finally win this thing. Then he’s on his lid just a few laps before the end. That was kind of where we were every single off‑season, every single February, because we weren’t racing yet. I would have been sitting there watching the television, seeing whether or not Dale was finally going to be able to win the Daytona 500. was a Jeff Gordon fan number one, but from there I liked to see Dale win, I didn’t mind seeing Rusty win, I didn’t mind seeing Dale Jarrett win. I was watching, learning, seeing the sport evolve and play out, never really saying, I can’t stand that guy, I hate that guy. I was never that guy.”

Martin Truex Jr. (age 17 in 1998)

“I was on the couch with my dad, watching the race. Of course, Dale was my driver. To watch the heartbreaks over the years, then for him to finally win it, it was like watching the Eagles win the Super Bowl. It really was. It was so exciting. It was unbelievable that he finally got it. It was like you knew at some point in time he was going to win it, right? Until he did, you’re like, What the heck is going to happen next?

“That was fun. Then just watching him drive down pit road, the congratulations he got, that’s something I remember like it was yesterday. I mean, I remember exactly where I was sitting on the couch. It was like one of the coolest moments in racing history, so yeah I remember it.’’

Justin Allgaier (age 11 in 1998)

“We were at home watching the race and a buddy of mine and I were outside … riding a motorized scooter and he fell and broke his arm. All of us were Dale Earnhardt Sr. fans at the time. His family was diehard Dale Earnhardt Sr. fans. They waited to go to the hospital to have his arm checked out until after we saw the end of the race because there was a good chance he was going to win. Quite an interesting ordeal but at the same time it was cool to be able to watch that on TV.

Elliott Sadler (age 22 in 1998)

“I was here as a pit crew member for my brother who was running the Busch Series at the time. We stayed over and watched the race as a fan. You know it was big at the time because he tried to win it for 20 straight years. I grew up an Earnhardt fan. It was neat for me to be here and see that. I think in my mind will I ever hear the fans that loud again in this sport? I’m not sure.’’

ANDY PETREE (car owner for Ken Schrader in 1998)

We had a challenging week, and Kenny got hurt pretty bad. We had to run our Clash car, and it turned out to be the best car we had. Drove up through there. So fun to watch. He got up there and looked like we were actually going to have a shot. There were two laps to go, we’re getting in that position in fourth with a run and the caution came out. Dang it! I remember being mad we didn’t have a shot at it. They threw the caution and white flag. I was kind of disappointed, and then as I’m walking up pit road, right as I saw the nose of the 3 coming down, I thought “Dadgummit, he finally won the thing.” Me and him were tight. I kind of made my way up to the car, and we had this really special moment where we made eye contact, congratulated him and he was beaming from ear to ear. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him so happy.’’

 and on Facebook