Northern influx adds to NASCAR ranks
By Tim Packman
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Jan. 2, 2001) The traditional Southern roots of NASCAR racing have been getting some Northern influence in recent years.
The sport has long been steeped with Southern locations, natives and history. If you needed a driver, crew chief or mechanic, it was common to ask a family member, a neighbor or a friend of a friend.
But a walk through the garage area at races these days reveals fewer Southern accents and more Yankee presence. That might lead one to ask, "Is the "good ol' boy network coming to an end?"
Using the Mason-Dixon Line, the imaginary border dividing the North and the South in the Civil War, there is a significant presence of drivers, crew chiefs and team members who once called the North home. A survey of several Winston Cup multi-car teams supports the growing trend of "Yankees" blending in to the sport.
The 2000 Winston Cup media guide showed 19 drivers who list their home state in the South. The North is well-represented with 15, with the remaining ones listing a state west of the Mississippi River. Northern drivers aren't the only ones well-represented, either.
The crew chiefs, the ones calling the shots on race day, are starting to show some "Northernism" as well. A total of 22 are from the North and 21 from the South. The team members from north of the border are starting to swell, too.
There is no doubt that NASCAR has its roots in the South, where tracks in Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte; Darlington, Martinsville, Richmond, and Talladega have long been annual stops.
In the 1970s, stops at Dover, Del.; Brooklyn, Mich., and Long Pond, Pa., became normal. The circuit returned to Watkins Glen, N.Y., in '86 after a 21-year hiatus and Loudon, N.H., became a one-race-a-year stop in '93, then two in '97.
With a large portion of the shops located in the Charlotte area, this is where many of NASCAR's newest employees have taken the one-way trip to work full time in the sport.
Warren Brosel, a fabricator at Dale Earnhardt Inc., made the trek south in 1997.
"I worked in racing, and did some racing myself, in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wis., and I wanted to work full-time in NASCAR," he said. "I knew the only way to do that was to pack up everything and move to Charlotte. You have to be here to work here."
Brosel is not alone. A combined survey of Chip Ganassi Racing, DEI and Roush Racing reveals some interesting numbers to support that. The Northerners outweighed the Southerners by a count of 76-68.
Steve Hmiel, general manager at DEI, is a native of Syracuse, N.Y., and has been involved with NASCAR since 1974. He worked as a crew member and then crew chief. He was a pit boss for Terry Labonte, Sterling Marlin, Mark Martin and Johnny Benson, and has 15 victories, 81 top-5s and 140 top-10s in 252 races.
He got the racing bug when the Busch Series would visit the area. Although he was assisting in his dad's racing endeavors, he knew he wanted to work at a higher racing level.
"I just thought those guys were the greatest thing in the world when they came to town," he said. "Right out of junior college, I headed to Level Cross, N.C., to get a job with Petty Enterprises. That didn't work out, so I worked for Benny Parsons for a year, then went to the Pettys."
Hmiel said it was tougher to get a job back then because there were fewer positions on a race team. But he also found it was easier to break into the sport coming from the North because the teams knew Northerners wanted to work, a theory he said still applies today.
"In the 70's and even the 80's, guys weren't coming down here to be on ESPN," he said. "They came down here because they wanted to work in NASCAR. Even today, I look for someone with a racing background at a lower level than Cup. There is more involved than just what you see on ESPN." -nascar.com-