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 Thursday, June 15
Fathers' love looms large in Busch Series
 
By Phil Furr
Special to ESPN.com

 SOUTH BOSTON, Va. -- In the sweltering heat of South Boston, Va., two proud papas sweated out another Saturday.

Hank Parker
Hank Parker Sr. financed and served as the spotter for his son's No. 53 Chevrolet until last season.
Hank Parker could've been trolling around Lake Anywhere watching his livewell fill with the feisty largemouths that have helped make his a household name.

At the same time, Bill Amick could've been home on the farm watching as next week's buffalo wings left his South Carolina poultry plant and headed for store shelves across the country.

It's a fact: Neither Parker nor Amick had to be in Halifax County, Va., on a day when temperatures would've broiled panfish or roasted chickens.

But, South Boston Speedway isn't any different than Daytona or Talladega or Charlotte or any little league ballpark across the country. Their kids had a "game" today, and this tiny Southern Virginia bullring was another field of dreams where father and son had a chance to do something as partners.

With fishing fame and farming fortunes paving a path of immeasurable personal success, Parker and Amick spend their weekends at the race track helping their sons, Hank Jr. and Lyndon, live out aspirations of someday hitting it big in the biggest stock car racing show on Earth.

"There is nobody in this world -- and I taught (Hank Jr.) this in my own life -- that can make your dreams come true but yourself," says Parker, a winner of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society's Grand Slam and two-time B.A.S.S. Masters Classic champion. "You never, ever let anybody discourage you from letting you chase your dreams.

"I was fortunate enough that I made a career out of what I love to do and made a great living and had a storybook kind of life."

Parker and Amick are part of a growing number of car owner dads in the Busch Series, Grand National Division. Some -- Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett and Rick Hendrick -- are carrying their racing lineage to another generation in the form of Justin, Jason and Ricky. Richard Childress' son-in-law, Mike Dillon, drives Childress Racing's No 21 Chevrolet.

Others, like Parker, Amick, William Grubb and Billy Jones found their way to the NASCAR ranks after successful careers away from the race track.

While the kids do the driving, the dads pay the bills and, at the same time, have the opportunity to take an active role in the success of their children.

Father, family come first
Bill Amick, a father of three -- David, Angie and Lyndon -- says he hugs his son whether he finishes first or last.

"I may have a biased opinion, but I think Lyndon Amick is the best driver in the Busch Grand National Series," Bill Amick says. "He's my son, and my love for him is not conditional on how he performs or how he qualifies or how he finishes a race. He's my son, and my family comes first. I hope that I never treat him conditional as to how he performs on the track.

"I'm a father first. The only reason I'm in this business is because of my son. If someone else could offer him a better opportunity than what I can, then I would want him to be free to make the decision that's in his best interest. But if he gets to doing real well, I might do what Dale Sr. did and have him sign a lifetime contract."

(Lyndon) is my son, and my love for him is not conditional on how he performs or how he qualifies or how he finishes a race. He's my son, and my family comes first. I hope that I never treat him conditional as to how he performs on the track.
Lyndon Amick's father, Bill

Lyndon Amick could've been a football player. His 6-foot-3 frame as a high school freshman made him a hot commodity at upstate South Carolina's King Academy. But a chance go-kart race in 1992 wiped a pulling-guard off the chalkboard and replaced Xs and Os with RPM and MPH.

"I blame it on his mother," says Bill Amick, owner of Amick Farms. "His mother told me many years ago that I needed to spend some time doing the things he likes to do. He didn't like to golf or fish or do any of the things that I liked to do. At the time, he was trying to race go-karts, so I wound up becoming a crew chief on a go-kart pit crew."

Since those go-kart days, the Amicks have been together on the race track. They won a NASCAR Goody's Dash race at Daytona when Lyndon was 19 and followed that up with a Dash Series championship. With nowhere to go but up, the Amicks headed to the Busch Series, NASCAR's proving grounds for rising talent.

"I really wanted to play football up until about freshman year in high school," says Lyndon. "I started racing go-karts with a friend during the summer before football season, and I just really enjoyed it. We started having some success at it, but I never thought I could make a career of it.

"I was fortunate enough to be able to win some races. We tried to start pursuing moving up, and NASCAR's the place we wanted to be. When Dad goes after something, he goes as hard as he can go."

The entire Amick family has joined in as Lyndon searches for his first win in the Busch Series.

"When we get to the race track, there's no need to call home," says Bill Amick, whose wife, Lynda, and mother, Gladys, are listed as the team's motivational leaders. "There's nobody there. Most of the family winds up at the race track. We're a very close-knit family, and we enjoy doing things together.

"We try to support each other regardless of what one member of the family might be doing. I've been blessed in a lot of ways -- too many to count really. My children, and this one in particular, I've been really blessed."

Hooked on racing
Hank Parker Jr. never wanted to fish. He tried fishing, but racing caught this grinning teenager like a crankbait.

Little Hank cut a deal with his mom to keep the grades up and keep racing. His dad would watch through a window in the team's makeshift shop as his son put together the beginnings of a racing career.

"He would work on his own car and drag it to the race track," says Hank Sr. "We didn't have a crew. We had volunteer help. There'd be a lot of nights where I'd go up to the little shop above the house at 11 or 12 at night and bring him home on a school night. He'd have that car tore in 50 pieces and I'd say there's no way he was gonna race this weekend. But he did, every weekend. "Sometimes -- he didn't even know it -- I'd sit there in the window and watch him work and cuss and fuss and beat on that thing and try to get it put back together by himself. I saw a determination and the dedication that he has had ever since. He did his part and I wanted to do my part and work with him through the whole deal."

So dad opened the checkbook and the Late Model career began. Hank Sr. watched it all unfold from above the speedway where he served as Little Hank's owner/spotter/dad until early last season when he dropped his spotter duties after a brush with the wall at Darlington Raceway.

"The only time it ever got discouraging to me was when he called and wanted a new motor or had a $15,000 tire bill," says Hank Sr. "Every time I'd give him a little rebuttal, he'd remind me that I told him to chase his dream. Those dreams got pretty expensive for both of us."

Until this season, Parker had been financing his son's dreams with the fortunes of professional fishing.

"It takes a lot of fish to pay for a set of tires," said Parker. "It got pretty tight last year."

It got so tight in 1999 that Hank Jr. was about to give up on his dream. The team had no sponsor and the son was watching his father put everything he had into keeping the No. 53 Chevrolet afloat.

"We got down to the last third of the season and we were running out of money," recalls Hank Sr. "I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel, and one day (Hank Jr.) walked in my office. He was real perplexed and I could tell something was wrong with him.

"At the time, we were talking to Rick Rathbun (about sponsorship for the 2000 season), and (Hank Jr.) said, 'Dad, you know what I hate worse than anything? If we don't get that sponsor, you'll be in trouble and you'll have lost everything you've ever worked for your entire life.'

"I said, 'No, no, no. I will have spent everything I've ever worked for. I haven't lost anything.' "

They got their sponsor, Team Marines Racing -- an effort in Marine recruitment put together by Rathbun, an Semper Fidelis alum.

"A lot of people don't know how it was last year in the Busch Series for us," says Hank Jr. "It was a struggle just to make it to the races. I'm just happy that I had the opportunity to have a dad that would carry me as far as he has."

Racing has more advantages to fatherhood than just good times.

"I've used a lot of leverage on him about smoking and drinking as far as keeping a good, clean image and staying focused on racing," says Hank Sr. "He has done all those things, so as a father, it's been a pleasure to be a part of it. I'm very proud of him, and I look forward to continue to be a part of it.

"We've always been more like brothers than father and son."

The elder Parker doesn't know how long this relationship can last. He's got another son, Billy -- A K A Catfish -- coming up through the Late Model ranks.

"I would like to say that I hope to some day be a Winston Cup owner and have Hank Jr. drive for me," says Hank Sr. "Realistically, the resources and the team effort it takes to build a Cup team, I don't have the financial means to do it. This is as far as we're going. I love (Hank Jr.) too much and have too much respect for him. I would never do anything to drag him down or hold him back in an operation that didn't have the economics and the funds to give him a car that would be competitive in the Winston Cup Series.

"So, this is the end of our road. Unless something unforeseen develops, we won't go Winston Cup racing with Hank Parker Racing. I have another son, Billy, who we're gonna put in the Busch car. I don't know what will develop out of that."

But, laughing, Hank Sr. has an idea. "Billy's a better driver," he said. "Billy may can offset inferior equipment on the Winston Cup circuit."

Nothing like wishful thinking, especially from dear ol' dad in the heat.

Phil Furr, a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C., writes a weekly auto-racing column for ESPN.com.