Racing Part Of Sadlers Focus
February 4, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Making the race would be great, but running up front is more like a dream. And winning? It’s too far-fetched to think about it at this point.
His situation would be enough to drive a grown man to cry.
But Sadler cries for another reason. And that reason makes his difficulties in NASCAR seem so unimportant.
Halie Sadler, the 3-year-old daughter to Hermie and Angela Sadler, has autism, a neurological disorder that affects brain function. More than 500,000 people have the developmental disability in the United States. Autism typically causes children to have trouble communicating and having social interaction.
While not fatal, there is no cure. There are ways of helping children deal with autism, and that’s what Sadler and his wife are trying to do.
“She’s going to therapy everyday,” Sadler said. “It’s really hard to gauge the improvement from day-to-day, so we’re trying to look back six months ago. It’s a slow, steady process. She’s working at it, and we’re working at it. We just want to do everything we can for her while she’s young so when she gets a little older, she can live as normal a life as possible.”
Sadler, normally a polished speaker given his background as owner of a car dealership as well as a diploma from the University of North Carolina, speaks haltingly when he talks about Halie.
“It’s been tough,” Sadler said. “I don’t even do good talking about it. We’re doing the best we can.”
Sadler first tried to keep his daughter’s autism a secret. Now, though, he’s trying to make people aware of it.
And when he has a bad day at the racetrack – and there have been more than a few of those in recent years – Sadler comes home to Halie, and suddenly, his world changes.
“When I get home, it doesn’t seem to bother me as much when things go bad,” Sadler said. “Either here or at work. You try to look at it as everything happens for a reason, and we try to take what happened to us and be a positive influence and try to draw attention to it and try to help people that know what they’re doing try to figure it out. That’s really all we can do.”
There’s no doubt Sadler would love to become a Winston Cup success for Halie. But life isn’t so easy.
As his younger brother, Elliott, has moved into a solid Cup ride with the Wood Brothers – winning his first race last year – Hermie has bounced from the Busch Series to the Craftsman Truck Series to Winston Cup. And none of it has been full time.
Almost two years ago, Sadler almost had a breakthrough deal with the World Wrestling Federation as his sponsor. But the news was leaked too soon. The announcement and the deal were canceled.
That left Sadler scrambling to find work. Well, at least work on the weekends. During the week, Sadler runs Sadler Auto Center in South Hill, Va., a car dealership he bought many years ago.
Now, Sadler’s race team is also based in South Hill – having moved it from Charlotte, N.C. – but he has no visions of becoming the next Rick Hendrick.
“Don’t get me wrong: I’ve got no desire to be a car owner,” Sadler said. “ Right now, there’s none of what I consider to be good opportunities than are better than what I’m doing. What I’ve got to try to do is take the opportunities that I have and try to have somebody notice what we’re doing and work myself back in a full-time opportunity.”
Sadler scraped together enough money to buy Joe Bessey’s Chevy race cars, and he’s trying to make in Winston Cup. He’s committed to run 10 Winston Cup races in 2002, including the Daytona 500 with Little Trees air fresheners as his sponsor. He has backing for the other races, but he doesn’t want to ruin the announcements again.
Sadler also wants to run four Busch Series races, trying to get his team more prepared and confident as the season goes on.
“It’s difficult what we’re trying to do. We all know that,” Sadler said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re going to run some of the Busch races. We want to take what we learn in the Cup races, and, hopefully, go to the some of the Busch races and have a legitimate chance to run good.
“We know with the Cup races we’ve got to be realistic, and we’re not going to win any of those races. We know that. But we’ve got to keep learning and getting better.”
Sadler said he’ll try to run both races at Richmond and Martinsville – his home state tracks – both races at Bristol and Charlotte, as well as Daytona and Indianapolis. He’s hired Bobby King, who was his crew chief with the Don Beverly-owned team where Sadler started to make his mark in the Busch Series, to work with his fledgling crew.
That’s important, Sadler said, because “when you’ve got a small team, you’ve only got three or four full-time people, you need to make sure you’ve got three or four good full-time people.”
King came to Sadler from Donlavey Racing, where he worked with Hut Stricklin in Winston Cup. That experience should help Sadler be better prepared for the races he enters.
Sadler is getting his engines from Pro-Motor Engineering, a solid company based in Mooresville, N.C. But his cars aren’t as sophisticated as they need to be. At Daytona, Sadler was frustrated at not being able to find more speed, despite trying every spring and shock combination the team could think of.
“We hadn’t been to the wind tunnel, hadn’t been to the chassis dyno yet,” Sadler said. “We’re planning to do both, so we’ve got to hope we find a lot of speed in the wind tunnel and the chassis dyno.”
Meanwhile, the search for more sponsorship, perhaps a full-time ride with another team, continues like the search for speed.
“If I had a full-time opportunity that I thought was a good opportunity – certainly, it’s a lot of work doing what I’m doing,” Sadler said. “But you’ve got to make the best of what’s available. The way things are right now, I’m lucky to be able to race the races that I’m racing. I’ve got to make the best out of those and try to turn them into something else.”