Hackettstown, N.J. (August 28, 2000) --- He's a crafty veteran, trading "M&M's"Â® for oil or coffee, anticipating what the team will need in the garage area before they call for it, driving mile after mile from race track to race track. Gale ...
Hackettstown, N.J. (August 28, 2000) --- He's a crafty veteran, trading "M&M's"® for oil or coffee, anticipating what the team will need in the garage area before they call for it, driving mile after mile from race track to race track.
Gale Wilson, 57, is the transporter driver for the "M&M's"® Racing Team and he is easily the most experienced guy on the job. Wilson, affectionately referred to as 'Bandit' in the garage area, said he couldn't think of another truck driver who'd been hauling race cars as long as he had. Guys who started with him 20 years ago have long since moved on to other things.
Wilson has moved around very little in his career, but his most recent move came in May of this year when he went to work for the "M&M's"® Racing Team. General Manager Jay Frye called him on Wednesday and he left for Richmond the very next day. Taking his new position broke a promise to his wife, but she's gotten used to that by now. "I got married when I was 23 and I told my wife that I was going to drive a truck for a year, but after that I would find a job that would keep me much closer to home," Wilson said. "That was 35 years ago. I guess I'm still looking for the job that will keep me home. "I don't know if I have diesel fuel in my blood, but I know that I've made a lot of great friends in this sport and I really enjoy the travel. This is a pretty demanding job on your time, but even after 20 years I still enjoy it."
Wilson's start in Winston Cup was similar to the Cinderella stories floating around the race tracks. In 1980 he was laid off from his full-time position at a Charlotte freight company, so he went to visit his neighbor, Henry Benfield. Benfield was driving the transporter for Winston Cup legend Cale Yarborough and needed some part time help.
"I was laid off a few days before qualifying for the World 600 in Charlotte, so I went out there and hung on the fence until I saw Henry go by," Wilson said. "I yelled until Henry came over, told him about my job and right there he asked me if I wanted to go to Riverside with him the next week. I said yes right away and I'm still here."
Wilson's first jaunt driving a team transporter landed him in victory lane. The Winston Cup series raced at the old Texas World Speedway en route to Riverside and Yarborough was the winner. Later that year crew chief Travis Carter was moving on to work with Harry Gant and team owner Hal Needham and asked Wilson to come on board. Since then he hasn't known another profession.
But racing was always in his blood. Back when he was just 22 years old and well before he started working in Winston Cup, Bandit made his first over-the-road trip. Racing was somewhat involved, although more for fun than work.
"I know exactly when my first trip was as a truck driver," Wilson said. "I left the day after the 1965 Southern 500. I slept in my car in the infield the night before the race, stayed until they dropped the checkered flag and then headed out the next morning."
Wilson was born and raised and still resides in Statesville, N.C., just north of Charlotte. Racing and being a truck driver are obviously a very big part of life for him, but so is his family. Everyone in the sport makes sacrifices, and it takes a lot of hard work to make up for lost time with family. But Wilson has his system worked out. With two daughters and three grandchildren - Tori, 5; Peyton, 2; and Jack, 2 - Wilson makes sure he has family time amidst his hectic schedule.
"Every Monday night we have our family get together," Wilson said. "My daughters and the grandkids come over and we just spend time together. The kids know their granddad is always good for some "M&M's"® and we just laugh and have a good time together. On off weekends we always try to take them on a little vacation, to Myrtle Beach or somewhere like that. You just have to make time for family in this business." With all the things he's missed by being away, he's taken advantage of all the places he's visited over the years. But if there were any place he wished the Winston Cup series would visit again, it would be Nashville.
"We used to have the best time when we went to Nashville," Wilson said. "We got to be good friends with the Gatlin Brothers and every Friday after qualifying we would go over to the Grand Ol' Opry. Once I got to sit down with Roy Acuff in his dressing room and just talk with him for a while. Those guys always had fun when they were performing and they would welcome us right in."
'Bandit' takes much the same approach to friends and visitors of the "M&M's"® Transporter. He always has a pack of "M&M's"® and a story to tell...and there are plenty of both to go around.