BHR on Fast Track to Success in 2007
It was a cool day at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March when Bobby Hamilton announced his intention to step away from driving his No. 18 Fastenal Dodge so he could concentrate on treatment for a cancerous tumor in his neck. Hamilton, the 2004 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion and a four-time winner in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, has spent every year since 1989 as a full-time fixture in the NASCAR community competing as a driver. But for 2006, he would be forced to watch the action unfold from the sidelines rather than the driver's seat.
The early stages of Hamilton's treatment were difficult. Still trying to maintain a regular schedule at the Bobby Hamilton Racing shop and traveling to races left Hamilton exhausted. In order to ensure his recovery, Hamilton was forced to cut back his time at the race shop, and stayed away from the track for months.
Hamilton would attend treatments regularly, and unlike others in the public eye that have had to undergo medical treatments, Hamilton never asked for special treatment from his doctors. He never used the back entrance to the treatment facility, and he never asked to use a private waiting room. He walked through the front door and sat with others who were dealing cancer on their own.
"I am just like anyone else," Hamilton said. "I never wanted any special treatment from the doctors. I wanted to be up there with people. I spent a lot of time talking to people and understanding what they were going through. At that point, I was no longer a racecar driver. I was a person to them going through the same thing they were. It was a big help to me early on to get to talk to those people, and I hope I was able to help them too."
With treatments finally over, Hamilton is now able to focus on recovery. Nearly half the weight lost due to the chemotherapy has returned. His voice, affected by the chemo and radiation directed at his neck, is returning to normal. And, he's able to focus more on the health of his race team as his health slowly returns.
"It's been an uphill climb for sure," Hamilton said. "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. I've been to a few races lately and feeling a lot better. But like my doctor said, when you're going through this it's one step forward and two steps back sometimes. If you overdo it one day, you're going to pay for it for a couple of days afterwards. I think I am just now learning how to take care of myself to be back at the racetrack."
Stepping away from the race truck as a driver has given Hamilton a much different perspective on racing in general, and his race team as a whole.
"It has allowed me to see some things I never would have seen before because I was always in the truck," Hamilton said. "I have been able to step back and see what needs to be done with the company. I've never been able to see that, but now I am just on top of the truck watching. I get to see how people interact with each other, and how they deal with frustrations. I've seen some temper tantrums throughout the year I wouldn't have seen if I was in the truck. But being away from driving has made me a better owner."
While admitting the circumstances that forced it are not anything he would wish upon anyone, being forced to sit out 2006 and seeing things from the sidelines couldn't have happened at a better time to assess the overall health of Bobby Hamilton Racing.
"If it had to happen, 2006 was the perfect time to do it," Hamilton said. "The Dodge teams have been down aero wise, and we have fought all year long. There is not one of us that have been a dominant factor all year long. What it has done is given us a great chance to look at our team and see what we need to do to rebuild for 2007."
With 2006 nearly finished, the progress for getting BHR back in championship form is on track for 2007. BHR has already built a truck to NASCAR's 2007 regulations and started testing.
"When 2006 started, I took over the engineering side of things for Dodge," Hamilton said. "When we got the engineering thing from Ultra, the only thing that came with it was a bunch of equipment. We had to spend half the year going out there and hiring people and getting back up to speed. It set us behind a little bit. As far as 2007, we have already built an '07 submission truck for NASCAR. We had Casey Atwood driving for us and he broke a hub and wiped out one '07 truck, but as far as next year goes we have already gotten one truck done and we're getting the noses ready to go on the other trucks. I feel real good about '07."
Hamilton's focus for 2007 is on personnel. With virtually every team having access to the same parts and pieces to build the trucks, the difference between a winning team and an also ran is all about the people putting them together.
"The biggest thing that we are focused on is people," Hamilton said. "We thought we lost some people, but if you had to write a script, the people we lost we needed to lose. We've hired some better people to replace them. This is a people business. Everyone gets mad and has bad days. I've done it. I've threatened to walk out of my own stuff before. But we try hard to be easy to get along with everyone. My health has made that a little hard on everyone this year because they weren't used to seeing me every day. And if they did, I would come in at noon. It was a culture shock for some of them. Believe it or not, people like leadership."
With his health now on the upswing, Hamilton is in a position to lead his team back to glory.
"It is organization is all it is," Hamilton said. "With me getting back on my feet, it brings organization to everything. People know what's going on. It's only going to get better for next year."