CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Spencer Gallagher was all smiles Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The 28-year-old was unveiling his throwback paint scheme for the Sept. 1 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway, a tribute to Davey Allison’s 1985 ARCA car, or as Gallagher calls it, “The Beautiful One.”
He did so as GMS Racing also revealed Bill Elliott’s car for next weekend’s race at Road America.
After the unveilings, Gallagher playfully approached a group of kids in attendance with a sharpie in hand. Pictures and autographs ensued.
On Aug. 14, 2018, life was good for Gallagher. He had something to smile about.
That wasn’t the case on May 2.
Three days after he earned his first career NASCAR win in the Xfinity race at Talladega, Gallagher received a phone call.
He was told he had failed a drug test and violated NASCAR’s substance abuse policy. He was given an indefinite suspension.
“I’m pretty sure they had to get an excavator because my heart dropping through the building left a crater,” Gallagher told reporters Tuesday.
Three months later, and more than one month after his reinstatement upon completion of NASCAR’s Road to recovery program, Gallagher won’t say what he tested positive for and when he took his drug test.
But he did talk about what he learned from the experience, which saw drivers Johnny Sauter, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Justin Haley, Casey Roderick, AJ Allmendinger and now Hall of Famer Bill Elliott take his place in the No. 23 Chevrolet.
“I like to think I’ve grown up a lot in that time. Not that I didn’t before,” Gallagher said. “I spent time at GMS like it was my life because it is my life. I’m here and dedicated to making this race team everything I possibly can. With guys like (President) Mike Beam on it, I’m very confident in what we’re going to be able to accomplish.”
Gallagher, the son of team owner Maury Gallagher, has made two Xfinity starts since his reinstatement, on July 13 at Kentucky and last weekend at Mid-Ohio, where he finished eighth.
Gallagher views his wading back into competition as a benefit to how he views his race team.
“You always enjoy being in the seat week in, week out,” Gallagher said. “But it’s been really nice getting back into the garage, being with the team. I just get to sit on the box and play owner for a couple of races, I look at it, observe from the outside what’s going on, where we need to improve, where we can improve and how well we’re doing. That’s a role you don’t often get to take on as a driver.
“You have such blinders on trying to get the car to go faster and faster, you don’t get the time to stop and look around and see what’s happening … I relish the opportunity for that and look forward to being back in the seat full-time. But I’m definitely taking advantage of the times that I can when we got another talent behind the seat.”
That talent includes the Cup Series’ latest first-time winner and 2014 Xfinity champion Chase Elliott and a road course expert in Allmendinger.
Elliott will be back in the car this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I get a couple of amazing drivers to have as sounding boards,” Gallagher said. “You can’t help but learn, you can’t help but develop and grow and get better as a driver. That’s something honestly that I really like seeing, is getting that Cup level talent because it’s good for you as a driver. You get to learn how to improve yourself and your race craft, but it’s also great for the team. They get an outside pair of eyes that knows exactly what they’re doing that does this at the highest level you can and they get to evaluate yourself and tell you what they think is going on. I’m not a selfish guy, I’ve always been one for second opinions. Anytime we were out testing I always welcomed people to jump in my car and tell me what they think. The first thing I know is I know nothing. I always welcome another pair of eyes.”
Gallagher called his return to competition at Kentucky “the end of a long, hard ordeal.”
“Getting back out there and dropping it in fourth (gear) and holding it wide open, that felt really good,” said Gallagher, who started 15th and finished 20th. “That’s kind of one of those things that (shows) your life is back together and back on-track.”
Gallagher has received one other chance at significant track time since his reinstatement.
He made his Cup debut in the Aug. 5 race at Watkins Glen, driving the No. 23 owned by BK Racing, a team whose assets GMS Racing’s Beam is trying to bid on.
Gallagher qualified 34th and finished 35th, 17 laps down after mechanical problems, a result of running through grass.
“Teething issues, that happens,” Gallagher said. “As it turns out, engines don’t like it when you have to run them at 310 degrees because they’re full of grass.”
Would he be ready to go run full-time in Cup should GMS Racing’s Beam be successful in its pursuit of BK Racing’s assets?
“Something I’ve learned through my progression in this business is I’ve effectively been thrown in the deep end of every series that I’ve ever participated in just because I started out late in this game,” said Gallagher, who made his first laps on an oval at 19. “My entire career has been one long chain of ‘Sink or swim, kid.’ I haven’t sunk yet.
“I know it’s going to be a challenge if that’s what it comes to. We’re not just jumping in the deep end of the Cup Series, you’re jumping in the ocean. Let us remind ourselves these are some of the best drivers on planet earth, period. And that’s what you have to run against every Sunday. If I get the call, I’ve kind of inoculated myself against that fear of the unknown.”