Age: 26 Height: 5 feet 4 inches Weight: 145 Marital Status: Wife, Stephanie Reside
Yes, he's quite tall enough to enlist in his sponsoring Marine Corps, but that's in his stocking feet. When he pulls on his driving shoes, he turns into a virtual leviathan on the racetrack-somebody whose red-hooded car you don't want in your rear-view mirror.
That's Bobby Hamilton Jr., 26-year-old driver of the Team Rensi/Marine Corps No. 25 Ford in the NASCAR Busch Series.
A second generation racer-the son of Craftsman Truck Series driver and entrepreneur Bobby Hamilton-Junior is hoping to continue last year's success in the Busch Series and eventually move into Nextel Cup competition.
Continued success? Indeed, Hamilton had the most wins of any driver in the Busch Series last year with four triumphs and a close Fourth Place in the series standings.
NASCAR thought so much of his success it made him the centerpiece on the front of the series media guide. There he is, arms upraised in triumph, as he takes aim on 2004 to try and justify the media picking him as the favorite for the title.
"That's actually not a burden," young Hamilton says of the nod in his direction. "That stuff goes right off our backs. The cool thing is when my guys heard that, all of a sudden we went from being on schedule with our race cars to being 4 or 5 cars ahead at the shop because they're just busting their tails and sticking out their chests when they hear it.
"Anybody will tell you if you don't have the development, you're not gonna win the race. It's a confidence builder."
Quite naturally, racing is all young Hamilton can remember. As a youngster, he watched his dad compete in Late Models before moving up. Then in 1993 he came home from school one day to find a blue and white '71 Ford Pinto parked in his driveway-a race car gift from his dad.
"He was interested in racing, and I told him if he kept his grades up I'd give him that car to race," says Bobby Hamilton Sr. "And I figured if he was interested in a car and working with it, he wouldn't be hanging out with the wrong crowds."
The son began to rise. In only his second year he won the track championship at Highland Rim Speedway near his Tennessee home, and by 1998 had graduated to the ARCA Series where he had four Top 5's in five starts. Following that, under the guidance of his father, young Hamilton tested the Busch Series in a couple of races.
Hamilton Jr.'s drive to succeed meshes well with his sponsor.
But did he ever consider another career prior to that? "No," says Hamilton Jr. "I used to play baseball a lot, though, in high school and at a park where they had different recreation leagues as I was growing up."
The racing bug interfered with any other pursuits, however. "Racing was what I wanted to do," he says. "It wasn't just an easy deal where my dad handed me a checkbook and said, 'go racing.' I had to pay my own way, get a summer job to help pay the way, and keep my grades up while I was still in school."
Eventually he got his taste of the big time, first in ARCA and then with some borderline Busch rides, but somebody-namely Ed Rensi-was watching.
Rensi may not be familiar to the average race fan, but most of us are familiar with his former products: a Big Mac and fries. Rensi worked his way from sweeping floors at McDonald's to CEO of the fast-food giant where, during his 14 years, he also became friends and a sponsor of the drag cars of a successful owner from another field, Joe Gibbs.
Rensi left McDonald's in 1998 because his wife Kathleen had to have a kidney transplant, and he then devoted time to his family. Later, though, he and his brother Sam, formerly vice president of research and development for Remington Arms Company, turned a hobby into a business by going racing.
Hamilton Jr. progressed from racing a Ford Pinto on a local track to racing a Taurus in th
"We first started noticing Bobby when we had an ARCA team and were running at Charlotte," Rensi says. "Adam Petty won that race, and we finished Second with Mike Wallace. Bobby finished Third, right behind us. We knew that he was a pretty good race car driver, and the question then became, Could he handle the sponsors? Could he handle the media attention and things like that?
"We paid closer attention to him for a couple years when he was driving Dave Carroll's Dr. Pepper cars in the Busch Series. He was about 22 years old at the time, and you could tell he was a wheelman. He was very smooth, very precise.
"We were a little bit troubled when he was driving that Dr. Pepper No. 26 car, because he could qualify like crazy, but by the end of the race he was back in 20th or someplace. We could never figure out exactly what was going on, whether it was him, the car, or what. Finally, we figured out the car was just used up after the first couple of laps on new tires. He still did a remarkable job.
"So we started listening to him on the radio to see what he was saying to his crewchief and things like that."
The puzzle took shape.
"The longer we went on, we could see he was just a raw talent and his dad had raised him right," Rensi continues. "Bobby's like a sponge: We teach him something, he learns it, and sticks with it. And he's a wheelman. He's very smooth on the throttle, smooth on the steering wheel. He gets into rhythm and he's tough to beat."
Holly (left) and Hamilton Jr. have developed a strong rapport.
Another group of pretty tough guys-the Marines-joined the team as sponsor three years ago.
While on-track toughness may define Hamilton, his toughest moment in racing came when he wasn't even on the track. It was a loss shared by race fans everywhere-Adam Petty's fatal crash during practice for a Busch race at New Hampshire.
"Me and him were really, really close and spent a lot of time together," says Hamilton. "And then the deal with Earnhardt. That hit both sides of the fence as a family. I couldn't tell you what it was like to lose a child, but I could tell you what it would be like to lose my dad, and I don't want to go through that."
Adam Petty, May 12, 2000. "I remember it like it was yesterday," Hamilton says somberly. "I was done with practice and I ran up to the top [of the hauler]. I followed him right into the corner, seen the smoke and boom, the hit. I just figured it was another hit and nothing big. I kept hearing the rumors, but that stuff didn't happen, it ain't supposed to happen, and it wasn't going to happen.
"When we really heard it, it hit very hard that night. I was there by myself; my dad was running somewhere else. There in the motel, I didn't know what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to go home or go back racing."
After finishing Fourth last season, just 49 points out of First, Team Rensi was a preseaso
He went racing, with a sorrowful heart. Hamilton Jr.'s proudest moment came at the end of 2003, when he finished Third (Fourth in points) and his father won the Truck race at Homestead. "I couldn't ask for a better day," he says.
While Hamilton appears personable and easy-going, his assessment of himself is a bit more harsh.
"As a person, I think I'm moody," he says. "I'm real competitive. I don't like--even in video games or paint ball--to lose. If I can't win, I ain't playing, and so I keep working until I can win.
"I'm moody, but I also like helping people and seeing their face if I give them something special or go out of my way. I don't like getting gifts; I like to give more than receive."
Hamilton says when those moody times come, Stephanie, his wife of two years, serves as his personal restrictor plate.
"She takes it and will even dish it right back and tell me the way it needs to be," Hamilton says flatly. "You know, 'This is what I would do if I were you!' She's in charge of the company, handles all the business, and I couldn't ask for anything better."
Hamilton Jr. reached Victory Lane four times last season, and twice in the final five race
Harold Holly led Jeff Green and the No. 10 team to the 2000 Busch Championship and later led the team to a pair of Busch wins with driver Scott Riggs. Holly became Hamilton's crewchief in late May of last year and led the team to four victories in the last half of the season, including two in the final five races. Holly and Hamilton hit it off quickly-winning at Kentucky Speedway in their third race together-and continue to communicate extraordinarily well.
"I have a ton of admiration for Bobby and his driving talents," Holly says. "He's somebody I've always wanted to work with, and the stars sort of lined up for us. Bobby's will to win is second to none. I want to do the same thing. I want to build the fastest race car that's possible, and when Bobby tells me what he needs, I try to relate it back to the mechanical or aero side of the car.
"What he tells me over the radio, the attitude of the race car, the spring balance, chassis balance, whatever it might be, I need to get him where he needs to be."
Holly pinpoints Hamilton Jr.'s strengths: "A lot of his strength is confidence, and another is he's young and aggressive and is very, very smart. He's very smart behind the steering wheel and thinks about every move he makes. He has a fantastic attitude and supports the team 150 percent all the time."
Hamilton's attitude and determination, in fact, fit quite well with his team's primary sponsor. "It gives me great pride to know that I am racing for the same folks who are out there 24/7 protecting our country," says Hamilton. "If I can give them a small moment of happiness with a win, it really makes me feel good.
"Every Marine I have ever met has been nothing but first-class to me, and it feels awesome to know those guys are behind me."
Bobby Hamilton Sr.
You know him as Bobby Hamilton Sr., former Winston Cup driver for Andy Petree, with four wins to his credit. He's now Bobby Hamilton, Craftsman Truck Series driver and owner.
Hamilton Sr. oversees two Truck Series teams in addition to his No. 4 Square D Dodge. And he has four Truck wins on his ledger, two last year. Others in his stable are Chad Chaffin in the No. 18 Dickies Dodge, and Chase Montgomery in a No. 8 companion Dodge co-owned by Ray Montgomery and backed by Gladiator GarageWorks.
But few are aware of the beginnings of Hamilton's conglomerate. In Nextel Cup, there is RCR and DEI. In the Truck Series, there is BHR.
"My company was built for Bobby Jr.," says Senior. "It was a double-edged sword. It was built to where if he didn't get anything we thought would be good for him-while he was starting in Busch-that if he came home I was ready for him, but if he moved on to bigger and better things, then I've got something to do anyhow."
How has he influenced his son, and vice versa? What about the pitfalls of ownership, and has he found happiness in the trucks?
"I don't think I've influenced him that much because he's just a motivated person," Hamilton says. "I think by just being around the business, he's learned what not to do and that's helped him.
"And yeah, he's helped me, I mean just his outlook on different tracks and the way he does things. It's a mutual deal. We're just a punching bag for one another, on and off the racetrack. If he's having a bad day, I'm there, and if I'm having a bad day, he's there."
Hamilton marvels at the relationship between his son and crewchief Harold Holly: "At Atlanta last fall, I saw the car wiggle and I was on the radio. Harold said, 'I feel you dog, I feel you' without Bobby Jr. saying a word. I thought, What the hell does he mean? Then the caution came out, they stopped, and back on the track Holly asked if everything was OK. Bobby simply said, '10-4,' and that was their communication."