Tommy Houston grew up in a North Carolina county that was tradition-rich in motorsports history.
A native of Hickory, N.C., in Catawba County, Houston is part of a legacy of stock-car racing legends that includes Bobby Isaac, Ned Jarrett, Glenn Jarrett, Dale Jarrett and Morgan Shepherd.
Houston helped rewrite the motorsports record book for the region. It wasn’t something he set out to do. Most of it came naturally in the NASCAR Busch Series (now the Natonwide Series).
Houston was an integral part of the Busch Series at its very beginning, winning the first Busch Series short-track race on Feb. 20, 1982. He went on to set a whole host of records, winning 24 races and 18 poles between 1986 and 1996, while establishing series records for top-five finishes with 125 and top 10s with 198. His record of 417 Busch starts stood until 2007 when Jason Keller broke the mark.
Houston’s name is attached to a number of “firsts” for the NBS — first short-track winner at Richmond (Va.) Int’l Raceway; first Buick win (Oct. 12, 1985, at Hickory Motor Speedway); first Chevrolet win (Feb. 20, 1982, at Richmond); first driver to start 300 races; first driver to start 400 races.
For years, he waged battles with Jack Ingram, Sam Ard, L.D. Ottinger, Brett Bodine, Jimmy Spencer, Jimmy Hensley, Robbie Moroso, Harry Gant and many others, and never won the series championship. Still, Houston won at least one race every season from 1982 to 1996 and finished sixth or better in the standings each of those years.
Houston says he’s most proud of the entire body of work for his career.
“Sometimes, I look back and think, ‘Damn, did I do all that?’” says Houston, who still lives in Hickory with his wife Martha.
All of his victories are special, too, especially the ones at Martinsville, Va., and Indianapolis Raceway Park (now O’Reilly Raceway Park). “You remember a lot of those wins and they all seem special,” says Houston.
Houston is the product of a racing family that saw his three sons, Marty, Andy and Scott, and his brother involved in the sport. Marty and Andy remain in the sport in different capacities. Scott is employed elsewhere.
There was an extra special moment in Houston’s life when he competed in a NASCAR truck race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, starting alongside his son Andy in 2000, even though he had retired in 1996.
“It was just like I had raced just the last week,” says Houston. “You don’t forget how to swim.
“That kind of got it out of my blood, I guess. It showed me you don’t forget how to drive a race car.”