That's Racing: Hamilton fights through tough times

Friday, June 19, 2009 at 12:00am

The road has never been smooth for Bobby Hamilton Jr., a fourth-generation Nashville racer who over the years has bounced off a series of career walls but always kept going.

As a teenage racer, Hamilton felt his famous father, NASCAR star Bobby Sr., wasn’t assisting him enough, so he moved to North Carolina to race. In good months he earned enough to pay the rent. Sometimes he had to choose between rent and groceries.

“The experience made me tougher as a driver and as a person,” says Bobby Jr., 31, in reflection. “Now I understand what my dad was doing. He wanted me to learn to make my own way because he knew he wouldn’t always be there to pick me up.”

Bobby Sr., lost a battle with cancer two years ago, and last year, the championship NASCAR truck team he had worked so hard to build – and planned to bequeath to his son – folded due to lack of financing.

In essence, Bobby Jr. endured two deaths – the death of his father and the death of his dream.

“Losing my dad was hard,” he says. “We had become close in latter years. We probably had more long talks the last year of his life than we’d had during all the other years combined.”

As for the demise of the race team?

“It didn’t bother me one bit,” says Bobby Jr., who had taken issue with his stepmother over the team’s operation. “I hadn’t had anything to do with it since my dad died. I didn’t consider it his team any more.”

At one point Hamilton landed a ride in NASCAR’s premier Cup series but left after a frustrating season in a non-competitive car. He returned to the second-tier Nationwide Series and last year became a co-owner of the team. He was sidelined earlier this year by lack of sponsorship.

Last month he hitched a ride with MacDonald Motorsports. He hopes to eventually return to his old team.

Hamilton says lean times have forced teams to tighten their budgets. Driving to races instead of flying, staying in cheaper motels and eliminating such frills as million-dollar motor homes can cut a Nationwide Series team’s annual $5-6 million in expenses in half.

“Cold reality woke up a lot of people,” Hamilton says.

In addition to his co-ownership of Rensi-Hamilton Racing, Bobby Jr. also owns the team formerly known as Sadler Racing. Founded by Earl Sadler 40 years ago, the Nashville-based team provided early rides for such future stars as Davey Allison, Michael Waltrip, Sterling Marlin and Jeremy Mayfield.

The team, renamed Hamilton Racing, is concentrating on the ARCA series with an eye toward Nationwide expansion next year.

Despite the bruises – personal and professional – Bobby Jr. maintains a positive outlook.

“I’ve got a wonderful wife and a beautiful daughter, and I’m getting to race, which is all I’ve ever wanted,” he says. “Tough times are part of life. They remind you to appreciate the good times.”


1 Comment on this post:

By: frankbrown on 6/20/09 at 8:18

I spoke with a "supposedly" nascar racing expert and he said that Bobby Jr is perhaps too short to be a top-notch driver. Can't they elevate the seat or put him on a cushion?