Spence Retires from Teaching to Focus on Competition Director’s Role with Southern Super Series
By Chuck Corder
Nancy Spence doesn’t worry about her recently retired husband of 40 years.
A man surrenders his vocation and some search desperately to fill the void left behind. Mrs. Spence believes — perhaps hope is a better word — she has the cure to fight off boredom.
“I’m going to leave a long list in the morning,” said Nancy Spence, who teaches science to high school students at UMS Wright in Mobile. “We’ll see how that goes.”
Plus, there’s always racing.
“Racing was always his avocation,” Nancy Spence said. “He loves it. And he’s good at it. It’s something he always wanted to do. It just never quite worked out before.
“Now, he’s gonna be much happier.”
It was bittersweet, though, when Dan Spence stepped away from close to 40 years of fond memories earlier this month.
For the better part of his 62 years, Dan Spence molded young minds in classrooms and in sporting arenas across the Gulf Coast.
At a reception last Tuesday at George County Middle School, in Lucedale, Miss., he reflected on a lifetime in education.
“There were mixed emotions,” said Dan Spence, who lives in Mobile as he has all of his days. “It’ll take some time getting used to. Parts of it I’ll miss. It’s the first time in a long time, well 40 years, I haven’t had to punch clock. It’ll be interesting adjusting to a lifestyle like that.”
He won’t have long to catch his breath, though.
That’s because racing has once again come calling.
Spence has been the race director at short tracks across the country, most notably he has been a familiar face at Five Flags Speedway and Mobile International Speedway for many years.
He has also held high-level officiating positions with the All Pro Series, the ASA National Tour, the Southern Super Series and the Snowball Derby in his career.
His reputation as a fair and respected race director to drivers from Bombers to Super Late Models extends wide.
“Being a race director is one of the most thankless jobs in racing,” said Tim Bryant, track promoter at both Five Flags and MIS. “Anytime a close call is made you can be assured someone won’t like it, and criticism will follow.
“Dan has the perfect demeanor and racers respect him even when they don’t agree with him.”
That influence will continue to grow leaps and bounds after being Spence was named the new Competition Director for the second edition of the Southern Super Series presented by Sunoco.
The SSS is a 16-race touring series for SLMs that completed its inaugural season in 2013.
What does the SSS do for an encore? The championship was decided at the season finale. Daniel Hemric hoisted the hardware, edging Bubba Pollard by a single point.
Spence presided over every one of those thrilling laps. As Competition Director he’ll hold a greater influence over the proceedings when the year kicks off next month in Opp, Ala. (March 15-16).
“With his retirement, Dan could have easily decided to slow down,” said Bryant, one of the key track operators who spearheads the SSS. “But instead, with a little extra time on his hands, his passion for racing brings more involvement.
“If I was the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and it was Game 7 of the World Series, Dan Spence is the umpire that I would put behind the plate.”
A basketball court in a bandbox of a gymnasium was the setting for Spence’s final night with the small school in Mississippi.
In addition to his teaching duties, Spence has served as head coach for the George County eighth grade boys hoops team.
The boys were looking to repeat as tournament champions after going 16-0 last season. While defeat was their diagnosis on this night, the loss of Spence will be certainly felt by those around him.
Roger Dearmon, a friend of Spence’s for 11 years, knows this all-too well.
“Having to replace him, someone to fill his shoes, that’s always gonna be tough,” said Dearmon, who just so happens to also be the school’s football coach and athletic director. “Of course, you’re gonna miss him. But I want to see him do well in his new endeavor; do what’s best for him.”
While that chapter of his life seems impending, Spence still spends time letting four decades of work wash over him.
His reach extends to generations and generations of students. That’s not hyperbole.
“It’s funny,” Spence started. “There were three people on our faculty at the reception the other night that were former students of mine. It’s a weird feeling.
“The night before, at the game, the principal and I were waiting for the last students to get picked up. One girl, in a class of mine, called me over to the car, that her mom wanted to see me. The girl’s mom was a former student.”
“In some ways, 20 years (at George County), some things happen that don’t seem that long ago; in other ways it does seem like a long time,” he continued. “From my house to where I parked, it was 37 miles. When I started I’d fill the truck up, drive back and forth for a week at less than 10 dollars.”
While gas prices fluctuated, Spence’s love for racing never did.
It figures to burn stronger with his new role as Competition Director.
“This is actually my 43rd year as an official,” Spence said. “I remember the night Junior Niedecken graduated from high school and then rushed out to the speedway in time to win a consolation race and start the feature. Now Junior’s a grandfather.”
Like he did with his students, Spence hopes his influence with drivers carries down to the next generation.
Guess, Mrs. Nancy’s list will have to wait.