Tempestuous Spencer's other side

Driver is committed to anti-drug campaign

Anti-drug work shows another side of Spencer

Auto Racing

July 27, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Race car driver Jimmy Spencer is best known for his nickname, "Mr. Excitement," and his motto, "Jimmy Spencer never forgets." It means other drivers will pay for actions that negatively affect him on the racetrack.

He is not exactly the first guy you would pick out of a crowd to speak about parenting and what it takes to be successful at raising children.

But he's doing just that during this Winston Cup season, which continues tomorrow in Long Pond, Pa., with the Pennsylvania 500. Yesterday, he qualified 35th and Bill Elliott won the pole.

"The key to parenting is not giving a kid the 24th degree - or the ninth degree or whatever degree it is," he said, referring to the third degree. "It's just talking to them and letting them trust you."

Last year, a friend of his son Jimmy, then 15, came to spend the night at the Spencers'. The next day, Jimmy sought out his father and told him his friend had marijuana in the house.

Spencer didn't make a big scene. He talked to his wife, Pat, and together the Spencers intervened.

Pat told the boy if he wanted to come to their house, a popular gathering place, he couldn't bring marijuana, alcohol or other drugs. Young Jimmy Spencer told his friend they couldn't hang out together if he was smoking marijuana.

"The boy wouldn't talk to his parents about it," said the elder Jimmy Spencer. "I talked to Pat, and we decided to help him. I didn't know his parents, but I went and knocked on their door ...

"The mom and I talked 30 minutes. In the end, she appreciated me coming."

That incident and the movie Traffic got to Spencer. He wondered who was looking out for other kids and what he could do to help. After another long talk with his wife, he picked up the telephone to find out how to contact the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.

"The campaign encourages youth to seek out the positive things in their lives that stand between them and drugs," said John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "We know that for many young people, sports like NASCAR represent a powerful anti-drug. Having Jimmy Spencer as part of our youth anti-drug campaign team amplifies drug prevention messages to kids and their parents."

NASCAR estimates there are at least 3 million teens among its 75 million fan base.

Other athletes also are in the program, including tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and the New York Giants' Tiki Barber.

The program uses media interviews and public appearances to spread drug prevention messages. Spencer, who gets nothing for his part in the program, is asking parents to spend more time with their children and earn their trust.

He has linked his Web site, www.jimmyspencer.net, to the Media Campaign's sites, www.theantidrug.com, which targets parents, and www.free vibe.com, which targets kids. And he is fielding a Busch Series car sponsored by the Air Force for rookie Stuart Kirby, 20. The logo on the hood is "Racing: My Anti-Drug."

Pat Spencer said her husband gets a bad rap in the racing media, where he is sometimes portrayed as a hothead, sometimes as childish, sometimes as reckless. Spencer, of course, sometimes helps create the impressions.

But seldom is he shown as a thoughtful, caring adult role model and parent.

"My husband is a fun-loving man," Pat Spencer said on the phone the other day. "He loves Monopoly and card games and board games. The kids who come to hang out at our house never played Crazy Eights until Jimmy taught them how.

"He wants to make a difference in a child's life. That's how he sees playing with them and being there for them. That's how he saw taking the responsibility to get involved with this program."

Through the years of watching over their children, Jimmy and Katrina, 12, the Spencers have developed specific ideas about what good parents do. Good parents, Spencer said, listen to their children and spend time with them. When it comes to discipline, Spencer suggests "saving [penalty] time" for kids.

"What's the point of telling a kid to go to his room if he has nothing else he wants to do?" Spencer said. "We may wait two weeks, until they're really excited about going out to do something. That's when they get grounded. It shows them you haven't forgotten - and you remind them not to forget, either.

"I want my kids to be proud of me. You have to be strong for your kids and take a stand."

Winston Cup Qualifying

Pennsylvania 500

Tomorrow

At Long Pond, Pa. 1. (9) Bill Elliott, Dodge, 170.568 mph.

2. (28) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 170.358.

3. (15) Michael Waltrip, Chevrolet, 170.168.

4. (19) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 169.917.

5. (43) John Andretti, Dodge, 169.782.

6. (10) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 169.431.

7. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 169.421.

8. (12) Ryan Newman, Ford, 169.402.

9. (2) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 169.354.

10. (20) Tony Stewart, Pontiac, 169.313.

11. (8) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 169.259.

12. (44) Jerry Nadeau, Pontiac, 169.221.

13. (40) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 169.144.

14. (1) Steve Park, Chevrolet, 169.049.

15. (88) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 168.887.

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