HICKORY -- Wayne Auton cringes when his first race as NASCAR Nationwide Series director is mentioned.
“You would bring that race up,” he said.
That was this year’s season-opening Nationwide race at Daytona, when Kyle Larson smashed against the fence and fans were injured on a last-lap multi-car crash. Fortunately, no one was badly hurt, and the season since has proceeded nicely.
“I don’t have a good starting record at Daytona,” said Auton, who says he turned 55 on the 55th running of the Daytona 500.
“In the Dash Series, we lost a driver on the first lap, Joe Booher,” Auton said. “And we’ve had wrecks with Geoff Bodine in the Truck Series and Kyle Larson in the Nationwide Series.
“That (Bodine wreck) was a pretty bad deal, but No. 1 Geoffrey was OK, and everybody else was OK.
“The coolest thing after that wreck was that the drivers got out of their trucks and went to turn four and were signing autographs for fans.”
Auton, a 1976 graduate of St. Stephens High, is one of the names on Hickory Motor Speedway’s Wall of Fame. He was director of NASCAR’s Dash Series from 1990 to 1995, and he held the same job with the Truck Series from late 1995 to last December.
Auton says he got his current job on Dec. 11, 2012 during a Tuesday meeting with NASCAR officials Mike Helton, president; Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition; John Darby, Sprint Cup Series director, and Steve O’Donnell, senior vice president of racing operations.
And Auton says this season is “actually going pretty good. I’m pleased where we’re at, especially with the points battle, which they tell me is the closest in the history of the series.”
But Auton admits it’s tougher to be the director of the Nationwide Series than it was to have the same job of the NASCAR Truck Series from 1995 until last season.
“Absolutely,” he said with a laugh. “There’s a whole lot more technology in this series, and you’re always dealing with more engineers than what the Truck Series had.”
The toughest part of switching series, Auton said, “is learning the (Nationwide) garage and the people in it, as well as the philosophies of the drivers and others.
“You have to learn how they set these (cars) up to get through inspection and beat other competitors, how they use limited tires to get through the weekend. This series allows six sets of tires per weekend and five (sets) for the race.”
Auton, who still lives in Hickory, says he’d travel maybe 125 days a year in the Truck Series. For the Nationwide Series, “We’ll push 200 days this year,” he said.
The other negative, if you can call it that, is the length of the races.
“We used to run 125 to 200 miles” in the Truck Series, he said. “We run 200, 250 or 300 miles in the Nationwide Series. I find it harder to keep concentrating on the race. Late in the race, I’m pointing to my left arm, calling for them to bring in relief.”
Of course, Auton is kidding, something normal with him. He says he’s enjoyed the Nationwide Series immensely.
“I didn’t want to leave the Truck Series,” he said. “I loved the series and the people in it. But I’d done all I could do.”
Said Auton: “The racing has been phenomenal this year, and I hope the fans have enjoyed it. I've definitely enjoyed this season.
“It was great to part of something special in the Truck Series, and this division has all of the ingredients to be special. I like what we’ve got now.”
Tom Gillispie, the author of “Angel in Black: Remembering Dale Earnhardt Sr.,” writes about racing at Hickory Motor Speedway for HDR Sports. He can be reached at nc3022@yahoo.com.
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