Here Comes the Son
Reprinted from the June 30, 1998 issue of The Tennessean.
Hamilton Jr. latest ‘kid’ to make surge.
Earnhardt, Jarrett, Labonte, Bodine, Marlin, Petty and Hamilton: a collection of names that someday could be synonymous with stardom on the Winston Cup circuit.
Those names already account for 214 years, 447 wins, 14 Daytona 500 titles and 21 series championships.
But the future could hold even more for younger drivers who share those names: Adam Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jason Jarrett, Justin Labonte, Barry Bodine, Steadman Marlin and Bobby Hamilton Jr.
Hamilton is the latest son of a somebodv to earn praise for his work in a stock car.
“So far, so good,” said the younger Hamilton, who, like his father, is a native Nashvillian. “I think we did OK for the first time.”
Hamilton’s debut in big-time stock car racing last weekend at Pocono International Raceway resulted in a fifth-place finish in an ARCA event.
“We didn’t tell anybody we were coming to Pocono,” he said. “We tried to sneak up on everybody.”
There was reason for their cloak-and-dagger approach.
“If we did good, great,” the 20 year-old driver said. “If we missed the show or practiced bad, nobody would have noticed. I guess that worked out pretty wel1 in the long run.”
But instant success is not necessarily the best tutor, his 41-year-old father insists. Failure also can be a great teacher.
One of the ways he’ll learn is by making mistakes,” the elder Hamilton said of his son. “If you do everything right the first time, then you’ll think you already know it. And if you think you already know it, there isn’t a whole lot you’ll learn anyhow.”
But the kid wants to learn, and seeks knowledge from his car owner and father — who happen to be the same person.
“Even if he wasn’t my dad, I think I’d still be over talking to him, picking his brain and learning as much as I could from him,” Bobby Jr. said. “He has so many laps, so much experience.”
The younger Hamilton cherishes his opportunity, and finds the father-owner-son-driver scenario quite interesting.
I don’t know that it’s easier driving for your dad,” he said. “In some ways, I’m sure it is. In others, it’s a lot harder. There are some things you can say to a car owner that you can’t say to your dad. And there are some things you can say to your dad that you can’t say to a car owner.”
Regardless, it’s all about communication.
Bobby Sr, who has won a race in each of the last three seasons on the Winston Cup tour, is there to listen. But he bills himself as a consultant more than anything, saying his son won’t advance in the sport without a spark of independence.
“He sure isn’t going to learn anything if I’m the one making all the decisions,” he said.
His son is doing just that, working on his own cars, something the elder Hamilton sees as a sign of maturity in a racer. But it wasn’t that way from the start.
Bobby Jr. began racing four years ago, and won some ministock events near their home in Nashville.
“Then, he got a girlfriend, and his interests changed some,” his father said. “A lot of parents push, push, push, but [wife] Debbie and I aren’t like that. We let him do what he wanted to do.”
Two years later, Bobby Jr. was ready to resume racing and has been campaigning since on bullrings a fifth the size of the high-speed, 2 � mile Pocono oval.
“A lot of people see young drivers like Dale, Jr., and they say,’Hey, I read all about those guys. What about your kid?'” the elder Hamilton said. “For the most part, I don’t want him out there in the public eye a whole lot right now. It can be a roller coaster of emotion, one a young driver must learn to ride when success is followed by failure.
“The thing is, you get the attention, good and bad,” Bobby Sr. said. “It makes you question yourself and it makes you wonder. I can look at something in the paper and laugh, but young drivers can’t always do that.”
Visit the Sadler Racing Photography Gallery
Return to Sadler Racing’s home page.