Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Feature on HMS flagman Jason Sherrill

(NOTE: Appeared in the Hickory Daily Record in 2014.)
Sherrill happy to fly the flag at HMS
By Tom Gillispie
Jason Sherrill admits that it’s not always easy being the flagman at Hickory Motor Speedway.

“Being an official takes a lot of time away from your family,” Sherrill said last week. “It's a big commitment that requires me being at the track virtually every Saturday from March to October. I have missed countless birthday parties, cookouts, family gatherings, and even friends and family weddings.

“Watching family and friends going fishing and on vacations this time of year kinda makes me rethink this thing sometimes, but racing is in my blood, and I'd go crazy not being at the speedway on Saturdays. It's just part of my life.”

He remembers his dad taking him to an open house at the shop of driver Harry Gant and car owners Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham, and his dad took him to HMS when he was “three or four” years old.

And he’s been the flagman at HMS since mid-2001.

His racing career started his senior year at Bandys High school, when he got an internship through the school with Alsup Racing, an All-Pro Series team. After he graduated in 1997, he worked for Alsup that summer.
Then, for three years, he raced.

“I was racing at a dirt track, and I was out of money,” Sherrill said. “I was getting married, and I had a decision between racing and having a normal, happy married life. I knew I wouldn’t do anything racing.”

A friend, Gary Hawkins, got Sherrill to help with the cleanup truck at HMS, and Sherrill also helped out with whatever was needed. But then the flagman got sick before the Bobby Isaac Memorial race, and Sherrill was asked to flag.

“I’ve been fortunate; I’ve always been in the right place at the right time,” Sherrill said.

Sherrill, who is kin to the man who originally settled Sherrills Ford, married his wife Heather and in 2004 moved from Sherrills Ford to Newton, near Balls Creek Elementary School. Son Hunter was born 3½ years ago.
He says his highlight race happened just a few weeks ago when Hildebran’s Whitney Lail captured her first Super Truck victory. Sherrill usually buys a couple of flags each race week so winners can buy one from him, and she’d already told him that she’d climb the fence and get a flag when she won.

“Of all the wins I've flagged in 14 years, that’s probably the coolest,” he said. “To see where she came from and where she is and how much it meant to her, that was really special.”

The lowlight, Sherrill says, came two years ago during a Classic Sportsman race.

“Ken Webb was driving one of the Sportsman cars at Hickory, and he got real loose on the front stretch,” Sherrill recalled. “He went up the track in turn one before the tires were stacked up there. He hit it head on, and that was the one time that I knew a man was going to die in a racecar. I knew when he hit that wall and the car flipped up backwards and everything on the car was sheared off from the fire wall back.”

Fortunately, Sherrill was wrong. Webb survived and is now an announcer at HMS and a colleague of Sherrill’s.

Sherrill says that 10 years ago he dreamed of being flagman for a touring series, perhaps the NASCAR Truck Series. No more.

“Once my son was born, now I don't mind being where I am,” he said. “I love the speedway (HMS), the fans, the crews, the officials. I hope to be the flagman there a long time.”
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