Monday, August 1, 2016

Thinking back to Hickory

Occasionally, you'll find Hickory Motor Speedway stories (and photos) on this blog. That stems from the time (July 2011 to the end of 2014) when I wrote HMS stories for the Hickory Daily Record.

It started with an email from my former colleague, Lee Buchanan, who was working on the HDR's web site. He'd gotten permission to have a freelance writer do two HMS stories a week, one a notebook that touched on various HMS subjects and the other a feature on the past or present.

The purpose, I was told, was to draw attention to the web site, although the stories occasionally made it into the newspaper.

 The first year, I wrote features on HMS greats of the past like Tommy Houston, Jack Ingram, Ned Jarrett, Dale Jarrett and others, as well as standouts of the present. Over the three and a half years, I wrote about great drivers who had raced at Hickory now and then, such as Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Benny Parsons and Tiger Tom Pistone.

Buchanan told me that my story called Keeping watch over Bobby Isaac was the most-read story of my first year with the paper. I wasn't surprised; it was fun to write.

Buchanan was with the paper only my first season, and I was moved over to the newspaper's sports department the second year. At first, I went by my original orders, to write stories that would bring attention to the web site (and the newspaper). Eventually, few of my stories were reaching the web site, and I was instructed to write about the current drivers, not the past ones. That was OK; I enjoyed working with them, too.

You'll notice a photo here of a lovely young woman; that's Kate Dallenbach, the daughter of former NASCAR Winston Cup driver Wally Dallenbach. Kate wasn't a full-time HMS driver, but she drove there occasionally, and I did at least one feature on her. I also featured Jesse Little, the son of former Cup driver Chad Little, plus full-time HMS drivers like Josh Berry, Shane Lee, Kevin Eby, Matt Piercy, Taylor Stricklin (Hut's son) and others.

A lot of my stories were about Late Model or Limited Late Model drivers (like Berry, Lee, Stricklin and Piercy), but I wrote about Street Stock drivers like Eby, Marshall Sutton, Ben Ebeling and others, Renegade drivers like Carroll McKinney and Kenneth Roberts, Classic Sportsman drivers like Bill Webb and Bob Hapeman, 4-Cylinders drivers like Chase Pollard and Matt Elledge, or truck racers like Spencer Boyd or Whitney Lail.

I also wrote about Hickory-area racing folk who didn't race at HMS, guys like hall-of-fame driver Rex White, standout spotter Keith Barnwell, former Cup driver Richard Brown and Anthony Christopher Barnes (a young man who helped out with race teams despite being in a wheelchair with spina bifada).

I wasn't asked to write for the paper after the '14 season and really haven't kept up with HMS racing that closely. Still, I miss it. I enjoyed the heck out of talking to people I knew, like Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree and Jerry Punch, and all of those I hadn't known before.

Occasionally, I write about racing (Chocolate Myers) or sports in general (Deacons on Ice) for the Winston-Salem Monthly magazine, and I'm looking for my next opportunity to write about racing.

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