(NOTE: This story was written for the Hickory Daily Record, maybe in 2014.)
Racers have reasons to be remembered
By Tom Gillispie
Each Hickory Motor Speedway driver has had at least one special reason for being remembered. Some have more than one.
Jack Ingram, a hall-of-fame driver and two-time HMS champion, was once remembered as the former record holder in the NASCAR Busch (now Nationwide) Series, with 31 victories. Mark Martin, a hall-of-fame candidate himself, broke that record years later, and now Kyle Busch has raised the bar to more than 50 wins.
But Ingram is also remembered as the Iron Man, a nickname that stemmed from a long 1973 Labor Day weekend in which he finished high in five Late Model Sportsman races, four of them national-championship events.
“If anybody knew the story, it means a lot to me,” Ingram said Tuesday.
During that big weekend, Ingram won in Columbia, S.C., then had a successful tour of Maryland, Virginia and Tennessee. That Monday, he finished third in a race, and someone qualified his car for that night in Nashville. A friend who worked with Piedmont Airlines got him to Nashville for another top-five finish.
“It was 1,700 laps of competition in one weekend,” Ingram said proudly.
That weekend was big for Ingram. He says that friendly rival Sam Ard had a big lead in the Late Model Sportsman points entering that weekend. With four solid finishes in national-championship races, he pulled even with Ard.
“When we got to Charlotte, he wrecked, and I went ahead (in points). At Martinsville, Sam couldn’t possibly win (the championship), and he didn’t bother to go,” said Ingram, who won Late Model Sportsman titles in 1972, ’73 and ’74.
“They started calling me (Iron Man) after that, so I assumed that’s why they did it,” he added. “Nobody else has been able to do that, as far as I know.”
Dennis Setzer, a two-time track champion, is probably remembered for the 1993 short-track championship finale. It all came down to one race at Hickory, with Randy Porter, Barry Beggarly and Setzer racing for all the marbles. Setzer finished behind Beggarly and lost by the closest margin in Winston Racing Series history.
“I needed to finish second, so I needed to spin him out, but I didn’t,” said Setzer, the HMS champion in 1983 and ’93. “(Beggarly) did what he needed to do, and I didn’t.”
Did he regret not spinning Beggarly out?
“No, probably not; no, I don’t think so,” Setzer said. “I had already been named to drive the Alliance (Busch Series) car for Daniel Welch. It was the 59 that Robert Pressley was in.”
Pressley, himself an HMS standout, is probably remembered best for being part of a racing family. His dad, Bob, was the 1972 HMS track champion, and his son, Coleman, was 18 when he won the Bobby Isaac Memorial race at Hickory.
“I was a year old when he started,” said Robert Pressley, a former Nationwide and Cup driver and now the promoter at Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway. “I was probably 10 years old before I understood what it was about. I thought everybody's daddy made a living racing.”
Similarly, hall-of-fame driver Tommy Houston is remembered as being part of a racing family at Hickory. Tommy won the track title in 1975 and ’76, and his sons Andy and Marty were also track champions (Andy in 1994 and Marty in ’97). Tommy is also remembered as the winner of 24 Busch (now Nationwide) Series races.
Of course, some of Hickory’s big-time racers are known for something other than HMS.
Taylorsville’s Harry Gant, a two-time HMS champion, became known as Mr. September when he won all four September Cup races (Darlington, Richmond, Dover and Martinsville) and two Busch races (Richmond and Dover) at age 51 in 1991. His crew chief, by the way, was another Hickory-area lad, Andy Petree, best known for winning two Winston Cup titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr. in the ’90s.
To help remember Gant, HMS has the Harry Gant Grandstand to honor one of his best-remembered drivers.
Two racers, Ralph Earnhardt and John Settlemyre, are remembered as five-time track champions, but Earnhardt is best known for son Dale Earnhardt Sr. and grandson Dale Earnhardt Jr. Former track champions Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson made their names at NASCAR’s highest level, and both are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Another Hickory standout, Dale Jarrett, is best known for being the 1999 Winston (now Sprint) Cup champion, but Ingram says that Jarrett is better known for being a TV announcer on ESPN.
“What he did in racing got him the job, but he’s much better known because of TV,” Ingram said.
One of the biggest HMS legends is Bobby Isaac, who started his career at Hickory Speedway, then died after a race at the track on Aug. 14, 1977. Isaac is known for being the 1970 Grand National (now Sprint Cup) champion, but he’s best remembered for quitting a race at Talladega Superspeedway because a voice told him to do it.
There are many more legendary and big-time drivers who raced at Hickory. One of them was hall-of-fame driver Tim Flock, who won a 1953 race at Hickory with a monkey, Jocko Flocko, riding shotgun.
It’s an easy way to be remembered for a long time.
More entries from TARJ
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)
EDITOR@WORK blog entries
Entries from The Dog Blog
More blog entries by Tom Gillispie
Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie