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Where Are They Now? Jimmy Spencer: No more ‘Mr. Excitement’, it’s ‘Grandpa’ now

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After speeding through much of his life, Mr. Excitement has finally slowed down.

Instead of worrying about a race car setup or qualifying, Jimmy Spencer spends his days enjoying a different kind of excitement, like his first grandson Hudson, who turned 1-year-old Tuesday, working on antique cars or trucks, or just playing with his five dogs.

After more than four decades of rushing from one track to another, Spencer and wife Pat still travel a fair amount – but at their own pace.

“I raced, I raced every damn night, working on my race cars and raced as much as I could,” Spencer said in a recent interview with NBC Sports.

Spencer in the 2001 Brickyard 400.

He had to race so much to keep food on the table and clothes on his kids’ backs. But he also knows he missed a lot while competing not only in the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks Series but also modifieds and late models in the Northeast early in his career.

Today, the 60-year-old Spencer wishes he could have some of that time back. He’d have done some things differently.

“You can’t go back and watch the kids play soccer on the weekend you’re racing,” he said. “You decided to do that. I’m not mad, I don’t regret anything I’ve done. But would I change stuff? Oh, hell, yeah.”

Sister’s death had profound impact on his life, racing

Spencer has stopped breathing race car exhaust and is now smelling the roses, enjoying much of what he couldn’t while racing.

It was his sister Chrissy’s death in 2010, after a long battle with ovarian cancer, that began Spencer on something he never thought he’d do. Eventually make an exodus from racing.

“It was time for me to say it’s time to start enjoying life,” Spencer said. “She was worried about retirement and so many things in life and she couldn’t enjoy them.

“I said I’m giving it all up. I still think about her all the time. We sold most everything we had and I retired. My wife and I have been traveling. I still dabble in antique cars and trucks.

“An old buddy of mine once told me you have to make a decision when enough is enough and your quality of life is more important. So my quality of life is I don’t need my jet or other stuff anymore. I don’t need to live that flagrant lifestyle, I never did.

“I watched my dad die from Alzheimer’s (in 2014), a hard-ass working man. There are certain things that change your life, and Chrissy’s death changed mine. Her death touched my wife and me so much. We still cry on her birthday, Nov. 23. It was time to move on.”

These days, Spencer and his wife split time between homes in North Carolina and their native Pennsylvania. You’ll usually find him tinkering with old cars, attending car shows or playing poker with friends.

Racing just isn’t as important as it once was

But when it comes to racing – the thing that was his life for more than half of it – is just not as important as it once was.

“I still watch some races,” Spencer said. “It’s not a top priority anymore, but I miss it. During my career, I made fans and so many friends. I still have friends from my modified days in Connecticut.

“I miss the officials, seeing the crew members, seeing the drivers, having a good time. I was pretty good friends with (Dale) Earnhardt, I still go see Rusty (Wallace) some, Ernie (Irvan) I see once in a while, I went up a couple months ago and spent a whole day with Harry Gant.”

In addition to being one of the most fiery and colorful drivers in all forms of stock car racing, Spencer is one of the sport’s best storytellers.

His all-time favorite racing memory revolves around, like many other drivers, Daytona International Speedway.

Spencer and his parents had grandstand seats for many years for the Daytona 500.

“One day, we were sitting in the stands and I was winning a lot of short track races, and my mom asked me, ‘What are you thinking about?’ I said, ‘I’m going to win here some day, Mom.’ She looked at me and said, ‘You’re just like your dad. You’re just as determined as he was and you probably will.’

“And I won Daytona (1994 Pepsi 400). That was big, but the most important thing was my mom and dad were sitting in those bleachers when I started sixth in my first Daytona 500 in the Heinz 57 car (in 1990, finished 15th), behind Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott.

“I looked up in the grandstand and saw my mom and dad and said, ‘I finally made it in my career, I finally became a Winston Cup driver.’ I was nervous and shaking, I could not believe that I did fulfill my wish and promise to my mom. That was probably one of my biggest memories ever.”

A special bond with the late Bill France Jr.

And then there was Spencer’s relationship with late NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr.

It paid to have friends in high places for Spencer, including the late Bill France Jr.

“I was a cocky sonofabitch,” Spencer laughed. “I was winning in the Busch Series and made some comments to the media about some officiating. I thought I was the cock of the walk. One day, a Saturday, practice was over and an official came up to me and said, ‘Mr. France wants to see you.’

“Bill always used to tell me there were two heroes he had. One was Earnhardt and the other was me. I was one of his heroes. Bill France (Jr.) was special. Well, I was his hero up to that day.”

Spencer sat across a desk from France, who pulled out a piece of paper and drew a circle on it. Then he drew a second circle, and a line that bisected the circles.

“That’s when he looks at me with a stare and I knew I was in trouble,” Spencer said.

France continued to draw on the paper, adding grandstands, a pit area and a clubhouse. He asked Spencer what he thought it was.

“I said, ‘Bill, that’s Stafford (Speedway in Connecticut, where Spencer raced a lot in his early days).

“Bill then said to me, ‘You keep (expletive) around with me and you’ll be back there racing.’ All I said was, ‘Mr. France, I understand.’ From that day on, I realized not to mess with Bill France Jr.”

NASCAR is a different world today

As for NASCAR racing today, Spencer is somewhat disillusioned.

“We as a society have lost a lot of the passion,” he said. “I can remember falling asleep underneath my race car. I can remember Earnhardt telling me he borrowed $300 so he could get to the next race so he could buy a set of tires.

“These people today, the sport has changed for me and I know the world’s changing, but I don’t see the passion I saw with a lot of the guys I grew up with.”

Like many of the peers of his era, Spencer admits he doesn’t attend many NASCAR races in person, nor does he have any desire to get back into the game as perhaps a team owner or return to broadcasting like he previously did with SPEED TV and Fox Sports.

“That ship has sailed,” he said. “I have a great life, the Lord’s blessed me, I have a grandbaby now to keep me busy. I have no regrets.”

One thing Spencer will never get tired of is his legion of fans.

“Fans still come up to me today and say, ‘You were a damn good racer,’ and ‘I enjoyed you when you were racing,’ and stuff like that,” he said. “It makes you feel good because they still notice you. I still have a good time with them.”

The Jimmy Spencer File:

  • Competed in 478 Cup races; 2 wins, 80 top 10s. Both wins came in restrictor-plate races in the summer of 1994 at Daytona (Pepsi 400) and three weeks later at Talladega (Die Hard 500).
  • Highest Cup season rank was 12th in 1993.
  • Made 211 Xfinity starts with 12 wins and 93 top 10s. Made 31 Truck starts and earned one win and 11 top 10s.
  • Last season of racing was 2005 in Xfinity Series at age of 48.

Truck practice report at Miami

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Championship contender Stewart Friesen posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Gander Outdoors Truck Series practice session at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Friesen led the way with a lap of 165.320 mph. He was followed by Jesse Little (165.239 mph) and Christian Eckes (164.124).

Friesen was the only one of the four championship contenders in the top 10. Matt Crafton was 18th (160.901 mph), Brett Moffitt was 27th (159.250) and Ross Chastain was 28th (159.193).

Truck teams are limited to six sets of tires for today. The track wears tires, bringing speeds down. Teams save their tires for qualifying and the race.

 

Truck qualifying is scheduled for 4:35 p.m. ET today. The race is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET today.

FIRST PRACTICE

Grant Enfinger posted the fastest lap in the first of two practice sessions Friday for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Enfinger paced the field with a lap of 168.010 mph. Next was reigning series champ Brett Moffitt, one of the four championship contenders in tonight’s race, with a lap of 167.639 mph. Austin Hill was third with a lap of 167.162 mph.

Championship contender Ross Chastain ranked fourth (167.141 mph). Moffitt and Chastain were the only title contenders in the top 10. Matt Crafton, seeking his third series crown, was 11th on the speed chart at 165.042 mph. Title contender Stewart Friesen was 13th on the speed chart at 164.404 mph.

Truck teams will have another practice and then qualifying before tonight’s season-ending race.

Friday’s NASCAR schedule at Miami

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The final NASCAR championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway kicks off today with the first champion to be crowned in tonight’s season-ending Truck Series race.

The day gets going early with back-to-back Truck Series practices in the morning, followed by two Xfinity Series and two Cup practices, Truck qualifying and then the evening’s main event, the Ford EcoBoost 200.

Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain, Matt Crafton and defending Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt will battle it out for the championship.

The wunderground.com site forecasts a temperature of 75 degrees, partly cloudy skies and a 14% chance of race for the start of the Truck Series race.

Here’s how today’s schedule shapes up:

(All times are Eastern)

7:30 a.m. – Truck Series garage opens

9:05 – 9:55 a.m. – Truck Series practice (No TV)

10:35 – 11:25 a.m. – Final Truck practice (No TV)

11 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

12:30 – 10 p.m. – Cup garage open

2:35 – 3:25 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

3:35 – 4:25 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

4:35 p.m. – Truck Series qualifying; single truck/one lap (FS1)

5:35 – 6:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:15 p.m. – Truck Series driver-crew chief meeting

6:30 – 7:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

7:30 p.m. – Truck Series driver introductions

8 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 200; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Dover President honored as Comcast Community Champion of the Year

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Comcast has announced that Dover International Speedway President & CEO Mike Tatoian as the fifth annual Comcast Community Champion of the Year. Comcast established the prestigious award in 2015 to honor NASCAR industry members for their philanthropic efforts and with this year’s contributions, Comcast has donated more than a half million dollars ($600,000) to charitable organizations in the NASCAR community through the program.

Tatoian has been a staple of the Delaware and mid-Atlantic charitable communities, particularly with local military organizations at Dover (Del.) Air Force Base, since he began his tenure at the “Monster Mile” in 2007. One of his longest commitments has been with United Service Organizations. Established during World War II, the USO supports U.S. service members wherever they are, including on-base, deployed abroad, passing through an airport or in local communities at more than 200 locations around the world.

“We’re all fortunate to be involved in this great sport and privileged to give back as well; the spirit we recognize throughout NASCAR is the same spirit behind our community impact programs at Comcast,”  said Matt Lederer, Comcast Vice President of Brand Partnerships. “It’s an honor to recognize Mike Tatoian as the 2019 Comcast Community Champion of the Year, he has leveraged his platform within the sport to bring awareness to his genuine passion of supporting the military community.”

MORE: A soldier he never knew inspired track president to do more

One particular duty that distinguishes USO Delaware is it’s the only USO in the world that shares the responsibility of bringing home fallen service members, working alongside other units such as the Air Force Mortuary Affairs, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Joint Personal Effects Depot and the Families of the Fallen. For 13 years, Tatoian has assisted USO Delaware with countless programs and currently serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for the organization.

Tatoian was chosen by a panel comprised of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, Joey Logano, who won the award in 2018. NASCAR on FOX Coordinating Director, Artie Kempner, and NASCAR driver, David Ragan, nominated as finalists for the award, were each awarded $30,000 toward the amazing work they do with Autism Delaware and Shriners Hospital for Children, respectively.

Kempner started Autism Delaware out of his living room in 1998 after his son, Ethan, had been diagnosed with autism a year earlier, and 20+ years later it’s a statewide service agency offering lifespan services, as well as social and recreational program for families in a safe and welcoming environment. Ragan has been dedicated to supporting Shriners Hospital for Children as a part of their ambassador program since 2012. Ragan spends much of his off-time visiting hospitals, fundraising, as well as inviting patients to the race track for once-in-a-lifetime experiences at NASCAR events.

Comcast has a long track record of community service, aiding in the advancement of local organizations, developing programs and partnerships, mobilizing resources to connect people and inspiring positive and substantive change. To learn more about the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, please visit ComcastCommunityChampion.com.

Four Cup teams docked practice in Miami

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The Cup cars of Chase Elliott, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto and Joe Nemechek each will miss 15 minutes of Friday’s opening Cup practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway for failing inspection twice last weekend at ISM Raceway, NASCAR announced.

First Cup practice is scheduled from 3:35 – 4:25 p.m. ET today on NBCSN.

In the Xfinity Series, the cars of Ryan Sieg, Bobby Earnhardt and Brandon Brown will each miss 15 minutes of opening practice for being late to inspection previously.

Xfinity opening practice is scheduled from 2:35 – 3:25 p.m. ET on NBCSN.