Speedway is home away from home for Ohio couple

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comMay 24, 2014 

Pull into the Tom Johnson Campground, across U.S. 29 from Charlotte Motor Speedway, and drive to the log cabin that serves as the office.

Tell them you’re looking for Jim and Sallie Hooker and a man tells you, “They’re right over there – in the first row. They’re regulars around here.”

It’s not a cliche for the Hookers to call Charlotte Motor Speedway their second home.

“Our camper probably is here more of the year than is it up there,” Jim Hooker said one morning last week.

There is Mansfield, Ohio, where the Hookers technically call home. But with season tickets to all racing events at Charlotte Motor Speedway and tickets to races at Bristol, Tenn., and Darlington, S.C., the couple actually spend several months a year living across from the speedway.

“We not only like the track, but we like the area,” said Jim Hooker, 67, a retired manufacturing executive who raced on dirt tracks years ago and once competed against NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson.

1st race got them hooked

“It’s such a fan-friendly place – and the weather is great,” added Sallie Hooker, 66, a retired elementary schoolteacher.

The Hookers were racing fans before they were married 39 years ago. They bought their first motor home in 1984 and began traveling to races.

In November 2008, they came to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the first time, to see World of Outlaws races.

“We really enjoyed it, and we kept adding races,” Jim Hooker said.

More than motorsports, nice weather and friendly people lure the Hookers and their 41-foot Beaver Patriot Thunder camper to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Their daughter, Stephanie, 32, moved to Concord several years ago. Now there are two grandchildren, which means the Hookers also spend the Christmas season camping at the speedway.

“We’re probably in it seven months of the year,” Sallie Hooker said of the camper. “We have a large house in Ohio, and it almost seems as if we lose track of each other. Here, it’s comfortable.”

The camper includes a washer, dryer, king-size bed, microwave and full-size tub, among other amenities.

The Hookers typically start the year in Ohio, then take a trip – often to the Daytona 500 – in February. In March, they see the NASCAR race in Bristol, often parking the camper in Concord and driving another vehicle to Tennessee.

They’re back in Concord for drag races in April, and then again for two weeks of May stock car racing.

They return to Ohio in June but sandwich in a trip that month to the NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway. July and August are spent in Ohio, but they’re back on the road in late August for the Bristol night race and then come to Charlotte for drag racing in September.

They often stay here for the October NASCAR races, make a quick trip home and then return to Concord for November drag racing, go back home again and then return in mid-December to spend Christmas with their daughter, son-in-law and grandkids.

“We have a lot of great fans, but Jim and Sallie are among the best,” said Scott Cooper, vice president of communications for Charlotte Motor Speedway. “They’re great people; really nice folks.”

The Hookers were asked by Charlotte Motor Speedway to represent the track at the Sprint Cup awards ceremony in December 2012 in Las Vegas.

They claim to have no favorites among the Sprint Cup drivers, although Sallie Hooker admits to pulling sometimes for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“As a former driver, I watch racing from a technical standpoint,” Jim Hooker said. “I watch the drivers, the crews. I root for teams with successful strategies.”

Why do they maintain the home near Mansfield, about halfway between Cleveland and Columbus?

“Up there, we have friends, church and our home,” Sallie Hooker said. “Down here, we have family, racing and the weather.

“We have the best of both worlds.”

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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