Iracingone On One:/I Jimmy Spencer

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Jimmy Spencer was nicknamed “Mr. Excitement” a few years back, but its original meaning didn’t hold the connotation you might think it would. The NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Series veteran, who has two career Winston Cup victories, discusses that and other subjects, ranging from his longevity with Travis Carter’s team to his favorite baseball player.

RacingOne: This is your second stint with Travis Carter, but your seventh year back with him. Are you proud of your longevity with one team in an era where it’s so common for drivers to switch teams?

Spencer: I don’t know how you’d answer that. There’s a book that can be written about your career… about the mistakes you’ve made; should you have gone to drive for someone else or should he have put someone else in the car? I stayed with Travis because Travis is an honest person and he never lied to me. I consider him to be a pretty good friend, and if anything ever happened to Jimmy Spencer, I wouldn’t have to worry about what would happen to my wife and kids.

RacingOne: You owned two Busch teams for a while. Was it hard to give that up? And was that tough feeling buffered when you signed on with Phoenix Racing, one of the top teams in the Busch Series?

Spencer: I haven’t given up on them. I still own them, and we’re probably still going to field our Busch car for next year. I’m driving for James Finch (at Phoenix Racing) and I like him and I’ve driven for and won with (crew chief) Marc Reno in the past. They were looking for some help, and they asked me if I would help them, and I said yes. We started out well, won two races and we feel like we should win some more. Has that detracted from my Busch program? No. I didn’t plan on driving for my own Busch team this year anyway, and I won’t drive for it next year. I built it to put a rookie in the car and Schneider (one of his sponsors) and I had a misunderstanding about our deal. I thought Dick Trickle needed to be retired after a year and then put a rookie in the car and they disagreed with me, and that’s why we’re not together any longer. I want to put a driver in my car that’s a young guy coming up. I want to give him an opportunity I had years back when I drove for Frank Cicci and those people to showcase his talents.

RacingOne: You’re having a lot of fun now in the Busch Series, aren’t you?

Spencer: I always have fun running in the Busch Series, whoever I drive for. I have fun in Winston Cup, too, but in Busch, if we’re not running really competitive or something happens to the car, we’re not going to mess someone up who’s running for the points. We’re going to try to race to win and do the best we can, and have fun while we’re doing it.

RacingOne: You’ve been pretty outspoken about your Winston Cup team at times. Have they ever gotten upset with you about some of the things they might have read, or do they see it as a motivation for them?

Spencer: I would say sometimes I’ve gotten upset. But they’ve criticized me, and I took that as constructive criticism and improved upon it. Right now, (crew chief) Donnie (Wingo) and I are getting along really well. I trust him 100 percent. I feel like we’re going to win a race before the year is over, maybe more than one. And I feel like we’ll be in the Top 10 in the points. That’s just because of the trust factor. If they do something wrong, I’m going to tell them. If I do something wrong, they need to tell me. If we can’t do that, then we need to separate. When I say what I want to say, that’s just part of me.

RacingOne: When you were racing for your first victory against Ernie Irvan at Daytona in 1994, the last lap was one of the best in Winston Cup history. Can you remember what was going through your mind during the final 2.5 miles?

Spencer: I was just trying to win. We both had equal cars that day, and we both pitted together. His pit crew beat my pit crew out, and (team owner) Junior (Johnson) said something like, ‘You still can get him.’ We got to the last lap and I just drove into the corner like I had driven into it before. I knew I needed to get alongside Ernie, and I was able to do that. Ernie raced me the same way I raced him. We rubbed each other, but he didn’t take a chance of taking me out. It was great for me because I love to win races and I like to win with it being pretty exciting. Mark Martin and I had one at Charlotte one time in the Busch Series. There are some races you win when you annihilate the field, and that’s fun too. When you win, it’s fun period. That race was pretty special, though. Ernie went on and probably had a shot of winning the championship that year, but he got hurt really badly at Michigan. It was too bad for him.

RacingOne: You drove for a pair of legends in Junior Johnson and Bobby Allison. As early as that was in your Winston Cup career, were you in awe of that?

Spencer: No I wasn’t, because I knew I could do my job. The only thing I do regret about racing for Bobby Allison was that he never got the sponsor he needed. If Bobby would have gotten the sponsor he needed, I probably would still be driving for him today. We never could secure the sponsor we needed. We raced that year (1993) on about $1.6-to-$1.8 million, and everybody else ran on about $3 or $4 million. Bobby did a great job for me. We missed the Top 10 in the points because we ran out of money. But that was a great race team. I know every one of the team members and I consider every one of them a friend of mine. We had a lot of Top 5s, Top 10s that year, and we feel like we should have won some races. Ernie (Irvan) beat me that year at Talladega, when I ran second to him. The following year I beat him at Daytona. A lot of people don’t remember that because it wasn’t as exciting as our Daytona battle.

RacingOne: What do you remember most about your first Winston Cup start (at Dover in 1989)?

Spencer: I knew I had wanted to do this my whole life. When I got the phone call, it was pretty neat to have an opportunity to go drive a Winston Cup car. I was bothered by the fact I never got the opportunity to test. I just went to Dover cold turkey, put a seat in the car and qualified decent. We were running in the Top 10 when the motor failed. I was nervous, I was running against Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough and those guys. After the race, I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought it was another race car and I was trying to beat them.

RacingOne: Do you feel like you’ve been able to shake the label of “Mr. Excitement” over the years, and it does it bother you if people still call you that?

Spencer: I’ll always be ‘Mr. Excitement.’ It’s a term that was supposed to mean that the guy never gave up. When they gave me that nickname, it wasn’t for crashing race cars or whatever a lot of the fans may have thought. But that’s their opinion. There are a lot of fans out there that don’t like me, and I don’t really care. There’s a whole lot more that like me, and I care about those people. We’ve noticed it at autograph sessions and things like that. I’ve got a nice fan following now, and I try to help them and talk to them. We’ve got our website and our fan club members. I have a lot of support. Those are the people I try to win races for because without their support, I probably couldn’t have kept going on.

RacingOne: It says in the Winston Cup media guide that you’re a big fan of Pete Rose. Do you think it’s wrong he’s not in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Spencer: You’re damn right it’s wrong. What a person does off the field is his business. If he bets on the golf course, if he gambles blackjack or whatever; I love to play craps; that ain’t got nothing to do with what you’re doing with your job on the race track, the football field or the baseball field. Pete Rose, his whole life, never threw a ballgame. He just always gave 100 percent. For them to not allow that man in the Hall of Fame is just a shame to baseball.

RacingOne: You’ve got one teenager and another child about to become one. Has life become a bit more complicated these days around the Spencer household?

Spencer: Yes it has. They’re lucky because they got their looks from their mother. My daughter is a very attractive little girl, and she can’t date until she’s 25 (joking). I told (his son) Jimmy that he has to protect his sister. They’re good kids. They’re Christians, and they listen to their mother and father really well. They respect other people, and that’s all you can ask out of children. They’re very respectful kids, but they are kids, though. That’s part of it. There are a lot of parents out there who wish their kids would act like my two kids.

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