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Man’s journey tied to passion for Hickory Motor Speedway

- Correspondent
Sunday, Jul. 21, 2013

There can’t be too many folks younger than 30 who know as much about the Hickory Motor Speedway as Josh Cummings of Conover.

His passion for racing led Cummings on the circuitous route to the Catawba County Museum of History. Cummings, 27, is in charge of marketing for the Catawba County Historical Association.

Cummings’ story goes back nearly 20 years to when he moved with a parent from Florida to Newton and started hearing a distant roaring every weekend.

“I always heard the cars and never knew what was going on,” Cummings said.

A friend took him to a Hickory Motor Speedway race. Cummings was 10 years old.

“I thought it was the neatest thing in the world to be part of,” Cummings said.

Though he didn’t feel inclined to race, Cummings knew he wanted to participate in the sport. As a teen, he volunteered every Saturday night to work with the speedway’s tire specialist.

“We inspected the tires to make sure the racers had the right ones. That they weren’t cheating,” Cummings said.

In 2004, Cummings worked as an intern mechanic for Morgan Shepherd Racing.

“I worked under the tutelage of Troy Kelley,” Cummings said. “I realized the racers were just regular people. They didn’t see themselves in the same light as everyone else did. They were really humble guys.”

Two days after his 2005 high school graduation, Cummings was a student in the Bobby Isaac Motorsports Program at Catawba Valley Community College. A half year later, Kelley, who’d left the Hickory area, invited the 18-year-old Cummings to work for him at KW Racing, which was part of the ARCA Series in Mooresville. The driver was Ken Weaver. After Weaver changed teams in 2006, Cummings worked with Green Light Racing, a Mooresville truck series team. For 3 ½ years, Cummings worked under owner Bobby Dotter.

Cummings said Dotter “shares much of what he knows with young people interested in racing.”

In 2009, the pressure of week-in-week-out work got to Cummings.

“You get really burned out really quick,” Cummings said.

He returned to Catawba County and went to work for his dad, Ernest Cummings, an appliance repairman.

“I got to stop at 5 o’clock,” Cummings said. “I got to have a life again.”

Cummings wasn’t in the racing business any longer, but his passion remained.

In 2010, during Soldiers’ Reunion festivities in downtown Newton, Cummings visited the history museum and met director Melinda Herzog. He told her he wanted to volunteer for an upcoming museum event related to Hickory Motor Speedway.

The goal of “Race to History” was “to document the heritage of HMS,” Cummings said. “It is the longest continually running racetrack in North America.”

The first race was in 1951.

Cummings said he set to work planning and executing the event.

The success of “Race to History” in September, 2010, prompted members of the Catawba County Historical Association to ask Cummings to co-curate, as a volunteer, an exhibit for the Harper House/Hickory History Center. The display, “Running to Racing,” showed how HMS came to be a facet of the community,” Cummings said.

Researching the project, including reading W.D. Washburn’s “Hickory Motor Speedway: The World’s Most Famous Short Track” (Tarheel Press, Hickory, 2003). Cummings learned much about the role played by Alexander County bootleggers in the construction of HMS. He also learned about HMS’s challenging design and how winning there proved a racer capable of winning anywhere. Cummings also learned about NASCAR stars such as Ned and Dale Jarrett, the Earnhardt family, and local legends, the Kanipes, racing at HMS.

Then, in 2012, a paying job opened up at the history museum – the position of PR person.

“This is a different way I preserve the history of HMS, the historic track that we all know and love,” Cummings said.

Learn more:

For information, email Cummings at cchajcummings@gmail.com, call 828-465-0383, or visit the Catawba County Museum of History in the former Catawba County Courthouse, 30 N. College Ave., Newton. Hours are Tues. through Sat. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free.

For HMS news and upcoming events, visit www.hickorymotorspeedway.com.

Mary Canrobert is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Mary? Email her at marycanrobert@charter.net.

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