Setzer and his No. 46 Morgan-Dollar Motorsports teammates are front-runners in the Truck S
Sometimes the road to success can be long, but for Truck Series veteran Dennis Setzer, the first stop on the journey to a successful driving career was just a stone's throw away from his home in the small town of Newton, North Carolina.
Like many drivers from his generation, Setzer, 44, began his racing career competing in local Late Model and Sportsman divisions on small-town tracks scattered throughout the Southeast. Ironically, though, his boyhood dreams of racing weren't fueled behind the wheel of a stock car, but on the back of a motorcycle.
"I grew up about a mile and a half from Hickory Motor Speedway, and as soon as I got my dirt bike at 9 or 10 years old, the first thing I did was start making trails to the speedway," Setzer recalls with a laugh.
Billed as The World's Most Famous Short Track, Hickory Motor Speedway (HMS) is the oldest continually operating motor speedway in the country and was a regular stop on the NASCAR Busch Series schedule from 1982 to 1998. Legendary drivers Harry Gant, Dale Earnhardt, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Isaac, and others have competed there over the years.
Growing up in the shadow of HMS, Setzer was exposed to many of NASCAR's most famous drivers, but it was through his dad, Jerry, that Setzer's passion for racing developed at a young age.
"My dad raced a little bit in the lower divisions at Hickory and a couple of tracks close by, but we always went to the races whether he could afford it or not," says Setzer. "He was a furniture worker and he didn't take a lot away from the family to go racing, but he enjoyed it very much."
Setzer has his sights set on a Truck Series title.
Setzer's desire to race grew increasingly stronger by the time he reached high school, and with the purchase of his first car at age 17, he was well on his way.
"When I was in school, at 17 years old, me and a group of guys got together and built an old Street Stock car and started racing that thing," says Setzer. "We would go to school all day, work a part-time job in the evening, and then work on the car all night, so basically, school was sleeping time for me."
Setzer's dad continued to support his son's dreams of racing and even served as chief mechanic and driver for their hauler while the two raced the local short-track circuits across North Carolina.
"He was right there when I was 16 and 17 years old and all the way up through my later years," says Setzer. "He'd be underneath that car with me putting transmissions in and helping buy some tires and stuff for those Street Stock cars I tried to own myself. He was right there by my side.
"I would say along about the mid- to late '80s I got an opportunity to drive for Ed Hall from Raleigh, North Carolina, who is Bobby Isaac's brother-in-law. My dad and I would both take off work on Friday, drive to Raleigh and race Friday night, drive back home after the race in Raleigh, and get back in the van and go back to Asheboro Speedway on Saturday morning and race Caraway Speedway on Saturday night. So my dad spent a lot of time with me on the road helping me get around different places and supporting me any way he could."
Racing is not cheap, and Setzer, who continued to work a full-time job, soon realized he needed to pursue other options if he wanted to further his career.
"I started catching rides with different people," recalls Setzer, "and I got a little bit of local sponsorship with a good friend of mine, Terry Shook, from The Jewelry Exchange, and that worked out a little while.
"I met and started dating my future wife [Darla] at that time. Her brother, Jerry Fox, had always owned race cars, and he and a group of guys out of Taylorsville, North Carolina, and myself started racing in 1982 and still had a car together in 1996. I raced many, many years with those people, and any opportunities I've had in racing are directly because of those people who helped me out originally."
By the early '90s, Setzer had made a name for himself in the Late Model and Sportsman divisions along the East Coast, recording seven track championships at four different tracks while also venturing into the Busch Series with a total of six starts from 1991 to 1993.