The last time someone other than David Hoots served as the race director for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event, Jeff Gordon was an aspiring 17-year-old sprint-car driver and 13-year-old Jimmie Johnson was kicking up dirt on the Southern California motocross circuit.
Hoots has worked every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event since Oct. 23, 1988, and Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be the 670th consecutive points race the lifelong resident of Winston-Salem, N.C., has directed from the control tower.
“I’ve got one of the greatest jobs in the world because I get paid to do what I enjoy doing, and that’s going to races,” said Hoots, who grew up watching races at legendary Bowman Gray Stadium in his hometown.
His career as a racing official actually started while still in high school when he figured out how to attend races at Bowman Gray without actually buying a ticket.
“A couple of times a year they would have extra-distance races and they would refund the ticket money for those who would score,” Hoots said. “I did that a couple of times and then a good friend of mine had an uncle who knew a guy, who knew a guy — long story short — this guy was a NASCAR official. We got hooked up and I started going over and helping him score the races at Bowman Gray.
“I did that for a couple years and then, about the time I graduated from school, there came an opportunity to do it and actually make a few dollars on the weekends.”
Hoots tried college, but quickly learned he enjoyed working more than studying. He landed a job at UPS while continuing to serve as an official at Bowman Gray Stadium.
“As I worked my way up through the weekly endeavors at Bowman Gray, I had the opportunity to meet several NASCAR officials and I started going to some regional races,” Hoots explained. “I got to work some modified shows and some late-model shows.”
By the mid-1980s, Hoots had become the chief steward at Bowman Gray and also served in that same capacity at Caraway Speedway and Hickory Motor Speedway in addition to working numerous regional NASCAR races. It was while working one of those regional races, a modified event at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, that Hoots’s skill in the control tower caught the eye of Les Richter, NASCAR’s vice president of competition.
“He called me up one day and asked if I wanted to try the Cup series,” Hoots said. “I did Rockingham in the fall of 1988 and then went to Phoenix and I finished up the year in Atlanta. We had some meetings over the winter and I started calling the Cup races in a part-time role along with my parallel career of driving a UPS truck.”
Hoots continued his dual occupations until 1999 when he retired from UPS and joined NASCAR on a full-time basis.
Today, his role as NASCAR’s managing event director encompasses far more than just directing the Sprint Cup races on Sunday afternoons.
“I wear a bunch of different hats,” Hoots said. “I have several people who report directly to me in the track services arena. I also have a couple of race directors under me, and the folks who train and dispatch the fire and safety teams are also under my direction. Members of our team go to each race track prior to the event and make sure everything is in place for us to conduct the event when we show up.
“I also take the master event schedules and put together the daily event schedules, working closely with all the series directors, the race tracks and our broadcast partners. I have my hands in a lot of different aspects of the events.”
Hoots has witnessed a great deal of racing history from a NASCAR control tower, but he reaches deep into his memory when asked about the strangest thing he has seen while calling a race.
“The lights went out at the speedway,” Hoots said with a laugh. “Not all of them, but enough of them that we had to stop the race. I’m not going to tell you the race track, but this was at one of the earlier venues that I worked.
“The race track was wired with aluminum wiring, which is legal, but if you don’t keep it tightened up the circuit breakers overheat in the summer. The starter knew if one bank went out, I would run out real quick and start fanning the breaker, trying to get it to come back on. But if more than one bank went out, he would put the yellow out.”
After 37 years as a NASCAR official, 55-year-old Hoots is one of the most respected people in the garage area and he says that respect is rooted in two basic philosophies.
“Something that has helped me over time is a very simple philosophy that a lot of people here at NASCAR have — if you make a mistake admit to it,” Hoots said. “Go back and show them the data to say this is the mistake, or this is not the mistake, and whether or not it was a mistake, show them you did everything you could to try to make it right.
“Another important philosophy is that NASCAR is not the show. It’s the drivers’ race and our charge is to conduct their race,” Hoots added. “Applying those philosophies has served me well.”