|MARTHA AND TOMMY HOUSTON POSE DURING A|
BUSCH SERIES PREVIEW IN THE LATE 1990S AT
THE CLEMENT CENTER IN HICKORY.
(PHOTO BY NICK AND SHERRI STEARNS)
Houston has great memories of Hickory Motor Speedway
Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 11:07 pm
HICKORY, N.C. -- It was Hickory Speedway, not Hickory Motor Speedway, when Tommy Houston started racing at the track in Newton.
“Harry Gant and I raced against each other when the thing was dirt,” said Houston, now 67 and a member of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame. “My brothers were racing. We raced three years. When Ned (Jarrett) paved the track, we concentrated on paved tracks.”
Houston says he remembers winning Hickory’s Hobby Stock title the year the track was paved.
“My best memories are from when I got to race against (Bobby) Isaac and all the hotdogs back then, Ralph Earnhardt and those guys,” he said. “We were trying to win, but we weren’t doing it for money; we were doing it for fun, like people playing golf.”
They had one racecar, one trailer, one truck, he said. He recalls winning at Hickory one Saturday night, then going to South Boston (Va.) Speedway on Sunday.
“And doggone if we didn’t win there, too,” Houston said.
He says they “won some pretty good races.”
“We’d run three, four, five nights a week,” Houston added, “but Hickory was our home track. We had good success. My fondest memories are from watching my sons race and my brothers race.”
When he first started, the Hickory track didn’t have concrete walls, just dirt banks.
“I just felt fortunate to race Ray Hendricks,” Houston said. “My God, I got to race Jack (Ingram), Morgan (Shepherd), Harry (Gant).
“John Settlemyre and I were big rivals. Every time he’d get to me, he’d wreck me, and every time I got to him, I’d wreck him.”
Ingram remembers Houston fondly.
“He was a great driver,” said Ingram, who, like Houston, is enshrined in the NMPA’s Hall of Fame. “I don’t think his equipment was prepared as good as mine, and that’s probably the reason I beat him in the championships I did, but he did well.
“I’ve seen him beat quite few drivers in a lot of races. He was a good competitor.”
Houston won nearly 150 Late Model Sportsman races before the series morphed into Busch Grand National (and later the Nationwide) Series, and he won 24 races in what is now the Nationwide Series. Houston is tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for eighth in all-time Nationwide wins, with Ingram fifth at 31.
Houston ran in the first Busch race, in 1982 at Daytona. He started 23rd and finished ninth, then came back the next week and won the series’ first short-track race at Richmond (Va.) Fairgrounds Raceway.
Each year from 1982 through 1992, Houston won at least one race and finished 12th or better in the standings.
Houston is one of two drivers who started the first 184 races in what is now the Nationwide Series. The other driver? Dale Jarrett started his 184th race, missed a race, and Houston extended his series record of consecutive starts to 360. (Jason Keller eventually surpassed his record.)
Houston’s best year probably was 1989, when he finished second to the late Rob Moroso in the Busch Grand National standings. Moroso and Houston were battling in the season finale at Martinsville (Va.) when Houston’s engine failed in mid-race. Moroso finished third and beat Houston by 55 points.
Glenn Jarrett, a long-time friend, introduced Houston when he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame in a 2008 ceremony in Concord.
“To be inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame, it’s just such a great honor,” Houston said then. “It’s just really exciting. I don’t know. … It’s hard to put into words.”
He’s well-remembered as part of a racing family that includes his late brother Hal and sons Marty, Andy and Scott. He’s also the uncle of Teresa Earnhardt, Dale’s widow.
Five Houstons — Tommy, Andy, Marty, Ken and Hal — are all on Hickory Motor Speedway’s Wall of Fame. Ken Houston won Hickory’s track championship in 1964, with Tommy winning in 1975 and 1976, and Marty doing the same in 1997.
Houston’s best non-winning moment probably came when he and two sons competed in a 1999 NASCAR truck race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Greg Biffle won the Orleans 250. Dennis Setzer, another Hickory driver, finished fourth, with Marty Houston 13th, Andy Houston 22nd and Tommy Houston 35th in a 36-truck field.
Why did Tommy finish so far back? He says it was a start-and-park deal. They told him to park the truck early, and he ran laps.
“It let me know I could still qualify,” he said. “I wish I could have run more laps.”
Houston, now retired, says the family recently moved from Catawba County to Alexander County to be closer to wife Martha’s family. He says he got Martha a Mustang convertible, and he watches two granddaughters play fast-pitch softball and Andy’s son race go-karts.
And he putters around in his garage. Gotta keep busy, you know.
Tom Gillispie, the author of “Angel in Black: Remembering Dale Earnhardt Sr.”, writes about racing at Hickory Motor Speedway for HDR Sports. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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