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

Photo courtesy Fox Sports
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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.

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).

Noah Gragson wins Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Noah Gragson opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs the same way he has run much of the season.

Gragson sidestepped a web of issues plaguing playoff drivers and won Saturday’s 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway, tying a decades-old Xfinity record by winning for the fourth consecutive race. Sam Ard, formerly a series mainstay, won four in a row in 1983.

Gragson, continuing to establish himself as the championship favorite, took the lead with 11 laps to go from Jeb Burton as most of the day’s leaders were running different tire and fuel strategies over the closing laps.

Gragson, 24 and set to jump to the Cup Series next season, led 85 laps. He won by 1.23 seconds.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

MORE: Texas Xfinity results

The win was Gragson’s seventh of the year. Following in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

The victory pushed Gragson into the second round of the playoffs.

A big crash at the front of the field on lap 117 changed the face of the race. John Hunter Nemechek lost control of his car on the outside and was clipped by Justin Allgaier, starting a wreck that scrambled most of the field. Damages forced playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier from the race.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Pole winner Jones, a playoff driver taken out in the crash, said Nemechek “was pushing a little too hard. Nothing to fault him there for, but probably a little early to be going that far. It is what it is.”

Six laps earlier, another multi-car crash scattered the field and damaged the car of playoff contender and regular season champion Allmendinger.

The wreck started when Brandon Brown slipped in front of Allmendinger and went into a slide, forcing Allmendinger to the inside apron. Several cars scattered behind them trying to avoid the accident.

Allmendinger’s crew repaired his car and he later had the race lead.

Playoff driver Jeremy Clements had a tough day. He parked with what he called mysterious mechanical issues about halfway through the race.

Below the cutline after the first race are Herbst, Hemric, Jones and Clements.

Stage 1 winner: Daniel Hemric

Stage 2 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson is threatening to turn the final weeks of the Xfinity season into a cakewalk. He clearly had the day’s dominant car Saturday in winning for the fourth race in a row. … AJ Allmendinger’s car was damaged in a wreck in heavy traffic, but his crew taped parts of the car and gave him an opening to finish fourth.

Who had a bad race: Jeremy Clements, in the playoff field, finished 36th after parking with mechanical trouble near the race’s halfway point. … Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed only 17 laps into the race and finished last.

Next: The second race in the first round of the Xfinity playoffs is scheduled Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (USA Network) at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.