Saturday, February 8, 2014

Tim Southers feature

Hickory native fulfills his childhood dream of playing a role in NASCAR
Posted: Friday, August 9, 2013 8:41 am | Updated: 8:44 am, Fri Aug 9, 2013.
By TOM GILLISPIE Special To The Record
HICKORY, N.C. -- Tim Southers’ love affair with auto racing started early.
“I went to Hickory Motor Speedway as a little kid,” said Southers, 45, now a publicist for NASCAR’s Truck Series. “I went with my uncle, Jack Cline. I fell in love with it the first time I went there to watch a race with him and my cousins.”

Asked about his racing heroes as a boy, Southers said: “One of the first people I admired was Harry Gant. Back when he was the Skoal Bandit they opened the Winn Dixie on Springs Road (in Hickory), and me and three other people were there.
“He was so nice to me, and he spent time with me. That meant the world to me because that was the first time I got to meet a NASCAR driver up close like that.”
Southers says he was also a fan of Ford drivers like the late Davey Allison and Bill Elliott, both of whom were Daytona 500 winners.
“And now I work with (Elliott’s son) Chase” in the Truck Series, Southers said. “He did a great job raising Chase.”
Southers says he tried to play sports at St. Stephens High when he was a student there, but his legs prevented that.
“I always tried to play sports but wasn’t very good because I have a minor birth defect with my legs,” he said. “And I wanted to race as well, but I knew I was not going to be a racecar driver with the way my legs were. I walk with a slight limp.”
Gene Brooks, a teacher at St. Stephens, helped Southers become a student trainer for the Indians. After that, Southers headed to college at Charlotte with the intention of teaching and working as a certified trainer. After coming home to Hickory in 1993 to recuperate from leg surgery, Southers transferred to Appalachian State and got a history degree.
While still attending Appalachian State, Southers took an opportunity offered by Newton-Conover High to work as an athletic trainer starting in the fall of 1993. It was there he met Steve Adams, who at the time was race director at HMS. Adams asked Southers to work part-time at HMS.
“They (HMS) asked if I wanted to run the scoreboard,” Southers said. “I’d get $10 and a hot dog and a drink. It got my foot in the door.”
With his “in” in racing, Southers worked his way up and eventually became HMS track general manager for owner John Huffman.
“I worked there 18 months,” Southers said. “He was a tough guy to work for, and I really didn’t know what I was doing. I never had any real authority. In some ways, it was the best year or so of my life; in some ways, it was the worst.”
Southers then worked a while with the NASCAR Goodys Dash Series, then took a job with the Hooters Pro Cup Series.
He’s also worked off and on at the Hickory Daily Record in various capacities. Even with the NASCAR job, he’s still a part-time page designer in the newspaper’s centralized editing center that produces more than 15 different newspapers nightly.
Southers was working for NASCAR’s regional touring series until last January, when he moved over to the Truck Series.
He says it’s strange, but he didn’t get to work with fellow Hickory native Wayne Auton, who was the long-time Truck Series director. Just before Southers got the Truck Series job, Auton became director of NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.
The Truck Series has been a sort of a weekly reunion for Southers. He was friends with Marty and Andy Houston at St. Stephens, and now he sees Marty on a fairly regular basis. Marty is truck chief for Ty Austin, and Andy is the spotter for Ty’s brother, Austin, mostly in the Nationwide Series.
Along the way, Southers made a lot of friends in racing, and they helped him with various jobs.
He gives a lot of credit to the late Jim Hunter, who once was the president of Darlington Raceway in South Carolina and who later was vice president of communications for NASCAR.
Southers also credits Hickory native Dennis Punch and former HMS employee Dwight Davies. He says his best friend in racing is Dennis Punch.
“At some point in your life, especially as you get older, you realize who your true friends are a lot of times,” Southers said. “And Dennis has forgotten more about racing than I can learn. He’s been a true friend, that’s for sure. And Dwight has been a huge help to me. He’s a great guy.”
Punch compliments Southers right back.
“Tim and I have been great friends for many, many years,” said Punch, the older brother of Dr. Jerry Punch. “He has really worked hard to earn the respect that he has in the racing industry.
“He deserves everything good that has come his way, and NASCAR should be very proud to have someone with the passion and work ethic that Tim possesses on their staff. I am so very happy for Tim and proud to call him friend.”
The Truck Series recently went to Eldora Speedway in New Weston, Ohio, a track owned by three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart and run by former Charlotte Motor Speedway employee Roger Slack. Southers said it was great working with both men.
“That was a neat experience,” he said. “That was the first dirt race for a NASCAR touring series in 43 years. The last dirt race was in 1970 at the Fairgrounds Speedway in Raleigh. Richard Petty won it.”
As a history buff, Southers notes it’s been 43 years since Petty won the last dirt race in a major NASCAR touring series and No. 43 was, of course, Petty’s famous racecar number.
“I thought that was ironic,” Southers said. “I try to appreciate history, since I was a history major. I soak up as much as I can. You can’t appreciate the sport until you understand where it came from and how they got to where they’re at today.”
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