Sunday, June 23, 2024

West Coast NASCAR team owner Wayne Spears passes

Wayne Spears, one of the most prominent team owners in West Coast stock car racing and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series during its infancy, died Monday at the age of 87. His #75 and #76 blue-and-white Spears Manufacturing cars and trucks, fielded under the Spears Motorsports banner, were iconic vehicles in both disciplines during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Spears, who had operated plastic piping maker Spears Manufacturing since 1969, had a lifelong hobby of owning stock cars. In 1987, he connected with West Coast drivers Bill Sedgwick and Roman Calczynski to compete in the NASCAR Southwest Tour and Winston West Series (now ARCA Menards Series West). Calczynski won the 1988 Southwest championship while Sedgwick claimed the 1991 and 1992 Winston West titles.

Whenever the top-level NASCAR Cup Series went westward for races at Phoenix, Riverside, and Sonoma, Spears brought his team to those races with Sedgwick, Tommy Kendall, and Ron Hornaday Jr. as drivers. Hornaday finished runner-up in the 1994 Winston West standings before going on to become a four-time Truck Series champion and 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee.

“Heartbroken to hear about the passing of Wayne Spears. He was more than a team owner and sponsor to me – he was a mentor and a friend,” wrote Hornaday. “Wayne’s guidance, support and mentorship molded me into who I am today. His legacy will forever live on in the racing world. Rest in peace, Wayne. You’ll be deeply missed. Our prayers are with (wife) Connie and the entire Spears family.”

NASCAR introduced the Craftsman Truck Series in 1995, and many West Coast teams including Spears Motorsports took part in the inaugural championship. Sedgwick finished seventh in points before joining Darrell Waltrip’s team for 1996.

In late 1996, Spears brought in Kevin Harvick, a twenty-year-old youngster who had made some Truck starts for his family-owwned team. After modest results in 1997, Harvick broke through to win the Winston West title while finishing seventeenth in Truck points. Like Hornaday, he left Spears for higher opportunities afterwards, eventually becoming one of the NASCAR Cup Series’ greatest drivers.

Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR

Current Xfinity Series driver David Starr also found his breakout with Spears. After being a journeyman for much of his early career, he joined the team in 2002 and quickly became a championship contender, winning three races in four years with top-ten points finish each season. Dennis Setzer also won for the team at Mansfield in 2007 before departing midseason.

Between Starr and Setzer’s stints, Spears agreed to field the #75 for Joe Gibbs Racing development driver Aric Almirola in 2006. Almirola recorded three top tens and an eighteenth-place points finish before returning to JGR to focus on other ventures. He is currently Harvick’s Cup team-mate and a three-time Cup race victor.

Spears shut down the team at the end of 2007. Clay Rogers was the final driver, finishing twenty-seventh in their swan song at Homestead.

He was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2009. While no longer operating a team, he remained involved with stock cars by having Spears Manufacturing as the title sponsor of the SRL Southwest Tour.

“It is with great sadness that we share that Wayne Spears has passed. He was a great man in so many respects,” reads a statement from the SRL Southwest Tour. “We will forever have tremendous gratitude for his mentoring, friendship and far-reaching positive impact on short track racing. We have lost a true American Original. Our deepest condolences to Connie, the Spears Family and those who worked closely with Wayne at Spears Manufacturing.”