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Jimmy Spencer: Flashback and Forward
by Steve Wingate, TCGOB publisher
There's a lot of talk about what Jimmy Spencer is up to for 2002. He's been rumored to be headed for the Penske ride vacated by Jeremy Mayfield, as well as the Chip Gannasi team. Whatever he does, let's hope that he continues what he's been building on with Travis Carter. The Haas-Carter team has been working without the equipment and big sponsor dollars that the high profile teams enjoy for the past seven seasons. Since their recent alliance with Robert Yates Racing, however, they have improved all year long, almost to the point of contending for a win. Todd Bodine and Jimmy have had their share of poles and strong runs this season. And now, Jimmy is leaving. Leaving such a promising team can only mean that Spencer has something outstanding lined up for next year. The fans who have been following Jimmy's career in NWC know what he can do with topnotch equipment.
Oddly enough, what got me to first notice Spencer is something I'm sure he'd rather forget. The year was 1992, and I was watching my driver, Davey Allison, run away with the Winston 500. It was late in the race, and Jimmy, in the #98 Molly Black Gold Chevy, was headed down the backstretch in a pack of cars that included Kyle Petty, Bobby Hamilton, and Wally Dallenbach. Kyle Petty, in the #42 Mello Yello Pontiac, was running up against the wall, and somehow got into Dallenbach and knocked him sideways. Dallenbach, driving the #16 Keystone Ford clipped the nose of Jimmy's car, and sent him sailing backwards into the infield grass. The Travis Carter-owned Lumina got airborne and sailed an incredible distance down the backstretch on it's nose. The car never rolled, and actually landed back on it's wheels, allowing Jimmy to re-fire the car and continue on. He re-fired the car and continued on. After something like that, I believe I would have just sat there in the car and waited for 'em to come get me and take me back in the big, safe, comfy ambulance with all four wheels on the ground. But Jimmy re-fired the car and kept on driving. That incident remains in my mind as the most amazing thing I have ever seen in NASCAR Winston Cup Racing. Even though it didn't demonstrate any actual driving skills, it served to mark Jimmy in my mind forever as "the guy who had that wild ride at 'Dega."
The Travis Carter team folded later that year, and Jimmy ended up in the Busch Series driving for Dick Moroso. It wasn't long before Jimmy caught the attention of Bobby Allison, and ended up landing a full time ride with Bobby Allison Motorsports in 1993. Spencer was the replacement for Hut Stricklin, who had been tapped to drive for legendary car owner Junior Johnson. It wouldn't be the first time Jimmy ended up in a ride that Hut had either lost or left. Spencer made Bobby proud that year with five top-five finishes in the #12 Meineke-sponsored Ford, including a white knuckle run at the 1993 Winston 500 that brought him home 2nd.
In 1994, Jimmy himself ended up in the Junior Johnson-owned McDonald's Ford, replacing Hut Stricklin a second time. This was his "big break", and Jimmy made the best of it with a win at the Pepsi 400 and Die Hard 500. He finished in the top five three times and won a Busch Pole Award. It was Jimmy's only year with Junior Johnson, and the last year he visited victory lane.
After the great year he had with Junior, I was astonished to hear he was going back to the under financed Travis Carter operation. I just couldn't believe he was walking away from a winning car. So, for the 1995 season, Jimmy stepped into the #23 Camel Ford that Hut Stricklin had occupied the year before. The team scored only four top ten finishes that year. As the 1995 season wore on, it became apparent why Spencer had left the Junior Johnson stables. Junior ended up selling the #11 and the #27 outfits.... perhaps Jimmy had seen it coming. Jimmy and the Travis Carter team endured many ups and downs over the next few years, the low point of which was missing two races in 1998.
The turning point for Jimmy and the Travis Carter operation came in 2000 with the addition of Yates engine power, the Karl Haas partnership and a new teammate, Darrell Waltrip. The #66 driven by DW was not a stellar performer, and missed failed to qualify for several events. There was even talk of Jimmy and Darrell switching car numbers because the 66 was out of provisionals. Obviously, the changes for 2000 didn't have an immediate effect, but it gave the Haas-Carter team something to build on.
Jimmy Spencer and new team mate Todd Bodine came on strong in 2001. As of this writing, Jimmy has posted three top fives, five top tens, and two poles. Todd has finished in the top five twice and has won two poles and two outside poles. The way those two are going, I wouldn't be surprised to see either one of them in victory lane before the year is out.
Even if we don't see Jimmy in victory lane this year, I don't think it'll be long. After all, Jimmy always seems to make smart moves, and whatever move he's making at the end of this year will be a good one.
2001 Car Guy of Benchfield