By Rick Minter/Andrews McMeel Syndication
There was a time, 10 to 15 years ago that Bubba Pollard and his supporters thought he needed and wanted a career as a driver in NASCAR’s elite division.
But that didn’t happen.
Now, many in the sport are saying that NASCAR needs Pollard, and other blue-collar drivers like him.
Pollard, now 31, is a third-generation racer from the Atlanta suburb of Senoia, Georgia.
His late grandparents Hence and Reba Pollard were the co-founders and longtime promoters of the local short track, Senoia Raceway.
His father, Sonny, was an accomplished asphalt short-track driver before he put his career on hold to focus on helping his son develop as a driver.
Young Bubba was an outstanding Legends driver before moving to the asphalt short tracks. He soon won the championship at Senoia Raceway, and began racing — and winning — Late Model races on tracks across the Southeast.
His success earned him a slot in the “Gong Show” tryouts hosted at that time by Roush Racing. He didn’t win the Gong Show, but his family did continue its NASCAR quest by funding several starts for him in the ARCA series.
When that didn’t lead to an opportunity with a top NASCAR team, Pollard and his family returned to the short tracks.
He blossomed into one of the nation’s top asphalt Late Model drivers — many say he’s the best in that business. He’s won more than 100 Late Model features, most of them longer-distance events. He has major victories at nearly every track in the Southeast and at tracks across the continent, including Kern County Speedway in California. He’s won most of his division’s marquee races, including the Oxford 250 in Maine, which he accomplished last year in his first try.
On off-weekends from asphalt racing, Pollard often drives a Late Model on the dirt at Senoia Raceway, where he’s one of a few drivers who have won on the speedway when it was asphalt and on the current dirt surface.
A recent article in Autoweek stated that when it came time to chisel the Mount Rushmore of short-track racing, Pollard should be placed alongside legends Dick Trickle, Sam Ard and Jack Ingram.
Among the things that attract fans to Pollard is the fact that he really is a blue-collar guy in a sport increasingly populated by younger drivers with strong financial backing.
Surprisingly, given his results on the track, Pollard’s not even a full-time racer. During the week, he, like the rest of his family, pitches in and does physical labor at the family business.
It’s reminiscent of the days when NASCAR had stars like Harry Gant, who was just as accomplished as a carpenter and cattleman as he was at driving.
Hard work is part of Pollard’s DNA. His grandfather was a timberman, farmer and part-time race track promoter. His parents continue to operate the farm and have added a construction business and a disposal business.
“We never know what Monday morning will bring,” Pollard said by phone late one evening as he drove home from work. “Some days we’re working cows. Sometimes we’re pumping septic tanks or installing them. Other times we’re throwing trash.
“We work together as family just like we race together as a family.”
Pollard said he and his family once dreamed of him making it to NASCAR.
“Growing up around racing, I looked up to idols like Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon,” he said. “Our goal was to someday race in NASCAR, but looking back on it, NASCAR just wasn’t the place for me at that time. It didn’t work out, and I’m OK with that.”
Pollard said one thing he’s proud of is that he continued to be the same person, and didn’t try to change just to make himself more attractive to a race team or sponsor. For one thing, he continued to go by “Bubba” rather than his given name of Andrew, even though the nickname at that time was a non-starter for many power brokers in the sport.
Ironically, the sport seems to accept Darrell Wallace Jr. as “Bubba” today.
And he didn’t move to Charlotte to lobby for a job, as many aspiring drivers did then and still do. And he’s a relatively hefty fellow, whereas most newer NASCAR drivers are skinny by comparison.
Talent has never been an issue, in the opinion of many who’ve watched Pollard race. Since his earliest days, he’s raced with a maturity far beyond his years.
“I think if I had gotten with the right team and the right people, I could have gotten the job done,” he said.
Instead, he continues to work and race with his parents, his sister, Andrea, and his wife, Erin, and young daughter, Mac, at his side.
“I’m in a good situation now, doing it with my family and enjoying what we do,” he said.
In addition to collecting trophies, Pollard has become the face of the asphalt short-track side of the sport.
He emphasizes sportsmanship and recently has been a vocal proponent of the tap rule.
Under the tap rule, if a driver involved in an incident feels he’s at fault, he can tap the top of his car, signaling to officials that he should be the driver sent to the rear of the pack instead of the driver who spun out.
“You never know who is watching you,” Pollard said of his focus on sportsmanlike behavior behind the wheel. “It might be a potential sponsor or someone who could help you with your racing.
“And now that I have a 2-year-old daughter, I want to set a good example for her.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Bubba Pollard won the 45th Annual Oxford 250 last season at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, and was joined in Victory Lane by his wife and daughter. Speed51.com