Sunday, February 21, 2016

John Settlemyre remembered

(NOTE: This article appeared in the Hickory (N.C.) Daily Record in 2013.)
Settlemyre: A driver of talent and commitment

By Tom Gillispie

Most people remember the late John Settlemyre as the driver who won five straight Late Model Sportsman championships at Hickory Motor Speedway from 1977 to ’81.

But they don’t remember the story behind the story.

In January of 1972, Allen Hester and his father-in-law bought a racecar from Ted Wells for Hester to drive in the Hobby division at what was then called Hickory Speedway. Hester had been a big fan of Tennessee native Raymond “Friday” Hassler, and they decided that Hassler would be a better choice to drive the car.

They’d even stenciled Hassler’s car number, 39, onto the car.

Then Hassler was killed in a wreck during a 125-mile qualifying race for the 1972 Daytona 500. The two car owners had a decision to make, and they put Settlemyre in the car in 1972. Good choice.

“I knew I couldn’t do the car justice, and John could,” said Hester, who would become Settlemyre’s crew chief.

“John and I were probably best of friends and raced together for 20 years,” said Hester, who is now district manager for Canteen for Western North Carolina. “We had a lot of success together. John and I had a close relationship. His skill set and mine just complemented each other.”

Hester says that Settlemyre had a big '72 season at the Hickory and Asheville tracks and won the state championship. Naturally, he got promoted to Late Model Sportsman at Hickory in '73. He drove a car owned by Clarence “C.G.” Ogle and continued to race competitively. In 1975, Settlemyre teamed with Reginald “Pie” Lineberger and Hester, and they built a Chevelle to compete in the Late Model Sportsman divisions at Hickory and Asheville.

Settlemyre drove cars for Lineber for five seasons, winning three track titles during that time.

He became the second five-time champion at Hickory. Ralph Earnhardt was track champion in 1953, ’54, ’56, ’57 and ’59.

During Settlemyre’s third championship season at Hickory, 1979, he also qualified for the fall 300-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“He was running eighth when he wrecked,” Hester said. “I was his crew chief and team manager.”

Hester says that Settlemyre was a skilled mechanic and a perfectionist. One year, the team bought disc brakes that didn’t fit the car, so Settlemyre worked on the brakes until they fit.

“It worked well,” Hester said, “and we picked up a lot of speed. If we didn't have money to buy (something), he'd make it. He had a rare talent and the work ethic to go with it.”

Settlemyre had most of his success at Hickory, particularly with the five straight titles, but Hester says that Settlemyre raced at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Caraway, Lonesome Pine, Atlanta, Charlotte and other track. He was running in Late Model Sportsman, which later became the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series. Now, it’s the Nationwide Series.

He raced against illustrious competition at Hickory. Among the other track champions in the’70s were Jack Ingram (’71), Bob Pressley (’72 and ’74), Harry Gant (’73) and Tommy Houston (’75 and ’76), and Settlemyre faced other top drivers like Sam Ard, Butch Lineley, Bosco Lowe, Tommy Ellis and others.

“Some of them raced professionally, but we never did,” said Hester, a 1968 graduate of Newton-Conover High.

In 1982, the 37-year-old Settlemyre ran six races in what is now called the Nationwide Series. His one win in that series — it was then called the NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series — came Saturday, June 19, 1982 at Hickory Speedway. He started fifth in a car owned by Carlos Johnson and finished ahead of Tommy Ellis. Sam Ard, Ingram, Ronnie Silver, Dale Jarrett, Houston, Pete Silva, Phil Parsons and Ronnie Davidson filled out the top 10.

Settlemyre raced until the 1989 season.

“We had built a Late Model car to run at Hickory, and we ran five races (in ’89) before it got torn up,” Hester said. “John just stopped racing. I repaired the car, and Bob Pressley drove it.”

But Pressley didn’t drive it as 39; instead, they changed it to 33.

That same year, Hester began working on a Winston Cup team with Harry Gant and Andy Petree.

“I did that till ’96,” he said.

But the highlight for Hester was working and winning with Settlemyre, who would continue to build and repair cars for other drivers after his “retirement,” and he occasionally raced if the right opportunity came along.

“It was just a different style of racing back then,” Hester said. “When those guys came to Hickory, they knew the guy to beat was John.”
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