New boss happy with Spencer

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2004

Jimmy Spencer earned the nickname ''Mr. Excitement'' early in his racing career for his hard-charging, rough-and-tumble driving style.

It served him well, too. He won back-to-back NASCAR Modified championships in 1986-87, then moved up through the Busch Series to what is now Nextel Cup. Along the way, he made his share of enemies on the track, and had notable run-ins with Ken Schrader and Kurt Busch.

Lately, Spencer only has lived up to his moniker off the track, since he started 2004 without a full-time ride. He drew criticism earlier this year when he questioned Toyota's entry into NASCAR through the truck series, saying it was Japan that ''bombed Pearl Harbor, don't forget.''

And last season, when he did have a job, Spencer was suspended for a race after punching Busch while he sat in his car in the garage.

Spencer doesn't feel his antics cost him a ride. The team he drove for in 2003, Ultra Motorsports, lost its sponsor and had to drop its Cup program, and several others that had openings also failed to come up with financial backing for this year.

''A lot of teams are in that situation,'' Spencer said. ''You'd have to ask other people what they think of me.''

Well, Larry McClure doesn't have a problem with ''Mr. Excitement.''

The owner of one of those teams looking for a sponsor, McClure fired Kevin Lepage after a poor start and hired Spencer, who finished 29th in his debut with the team at Texas about 10 days ago.

''Quite frankly, I like his personality,'' McClure said. ''Maybe he's said some things that other people didn't like, but that's just him. He says what's on his mind.''

Spencer sat out five of the first seven races he finished 24th in a one-race deal with Ultra Motorsports at Daytona and that was the first time in his career he missed such a large portion of the schedule.

In an effort to stay current on any technological changes, Spencer traveled to four events where he didn't have a ride. He hung out in the garage, talked to crewmen and other people, and generally made sure his face was seen.

''I talked to some different people, tried to keep abreast of all the changes from last year to this year,'' Spencer said. ''There's a big difference in the bodies on the cars and the tires, and I just wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything.''

The run at Texas was hampered by running out of gas twice, and crew chief Tim Brewer took the blame.

''That didn't sit too well with him,'' Brewer said of Spencer. ''But it was just an occupational hazard.''

That might also go for Spencer's demeanor off the track. He irritated Schrader in The Winston all-star race in 1995 when the two crashed. Immediately after the accident, Spencer said, ''If you mess with the bull, you get the horn.'' He later apologized.

Spencer's problems with Busch go back to a race at Bristol in 2002, when Busch bumped his way past Spencer for the victory. Later that season, Spencer nudged Busch into a spin into the wall at Indianapolis.

Their feud culminated last year at Michigan, where Busch admittedly rammed into Spencer on purpose in an effort to flatten one of Spencer's tires. After the race, Spencer waited for Busch in the garage, then punched him.

NASCAR suspended Spencer for the next race, which happened to be at Bristol. Judging from the reaction from fans, most of them sided with Spencer. Souvenir sales increased 40 percent at his trackside trailer, and when Busch won, his post-race victory celebration was marred by boos.

The fan support for Spencer carried over to his debut with McClure's team at Texas; several of them made a point of stopping by to commend the owner on his choice.

''I was surprised with just how much support we had there with him,'' McClure said. ''It's amazing how popular our decision was. I think it's a good move for us.''

Spencer thinks it's a good one for him, too.

''It felt good to get back in the car again,'' he said. ''We had a lot of little things go wrong, but it was growing pains. I think there's a lot of potential in this organization. We think we can be a top-10 team.''

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