If you went up to many NASCAR fans and asked what the director of a series does, you wouldn’t get detailed responses. I was the exact same way; I had no clue what a series director was in charge of, except for, you know, directing stuff.
That was, until I met Kip Childress, the director of the K&N Pro Series East, last weekend at Columbus Motor Speedway. It was obvious that he was a big deal; he had on a nice polo with the series logo sewn in, fancy-shmancy credentials hanging around his neck, and many official people wanting to talk to him. My interest was peaked.
When Kip talked about the race, the series, the future ideas, it was very refreshing. He was in love with the sport, you could easily tell. That’s mostly because he was born into it. Honestly, it was something I didn’t expect. In my mind, someone higher up in a series was stern, cold, very tough. He broke clear through that mold.
Seeing him talk so passionately made him easy to access, in a way. So, I took the opportunity to interview him about his background, priorities, and future plans for the K&N Pro Series East.
1. What responsibilities do you have as the director of a NASCAR series?
While that should be an easy question to give a simple answer to…I’m afraid that it isn’t. The broad answer is I am responsible for the competition elements of the K&N Pro Series East. From creating the rules, to putting together our schedule…from working with our track operators and sponsors to communicating with our teams and drivers…it seems as though we work nonstop throughout the season.
There is a lot of planning that goes on for each specific event. From the time we announce our overall schedule, we begin working with the individual track operators creating each event schedule. We factor in times for inspections, for practice, for qualifying and finally for our race…and we do all of that while working around other series or divisions that are with us at each track.
Along with planning for the tracks and teams, we also have to plan for moving and housing up to 26 officials at each of the K&N Pro Series races and planning what each of them will do during inspections as well as during the race itself.
The best part about all of that is that the officials make my job less like work and more like fun! They all have their jobs that they do…and they do them well. Andy Mitchell is our Technical Director and he is my right hand at the track. Liz Fredrickson is our Chief Scorer and makes sure that the drivers are in the correct positions throughout the race. Sue Droste is our Chief Registrar and keeps track of who comes into our pit and garage area. Emile Levasseur coordinates all of the travel for our officials. Les Westerfield is our Race Director and is the “Voice” that our officials, crew chiefs and spotters hear on the radio during our races. Dick Girard is our hauler driver…he is the one that makes sure that our equipment makes it to each and every track safely. Dick is also our “Pappy” at each race. He looks after us in every imaginable way possible. The rest of our group is made up of Bob Abitz, Adria Almager, Warren Alston, Jeremy Beck, Randy Cadenhead, Tonia Cornett, Jack Hepting, Mark Honkomp, Shawn Houlihan, Paul Koski, Brad Mulvihill, Steve Nestroyl, Ed Owens, Drew Ramsey, Paul Schartner and Patrick Smith. Those are members of our “family” away from our families and it is great to be a part of such a great group!
2. Can you share some of your racing background?
You might say that I was born into the sport of NASCAR. My father, Lance Childress, was a NASCAR official when I was born and he was actually working at a race on my birthday! I am a third generation NASCAR official as my grandfather was a chief steward at Bowman Gray Stadium in the 1960’s. My father got his start at Bowman Gray Stadium before accepting a position at NASCAR where he served as a National Field Director and a director of the Baby Grand Series (which later became the International Sedan Series, the Darlington Dash Series, the Daytona Dash Series…it was last known as the Goody’s Dash Series). He was a director of what is now the Nationwide Series in the early 1980’s…which is when I really fell in love with racing. My earliest heroes are from that era and they include Sam Ard, Tommy Houston, Jack Ingram, Butch Lindley, Jimmy Hensley, Bob Pressley…just to name a few.
My first experience working at a track was at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Enoch Staley was the owner of the speedway and he was my great uncle. Working there was a complete family experience and was like a reunion at every race. My grandmother and her sisters worked in the ticket office and my cousins and I worked all around the track. My first real jobs there was when I was 9 or 10 years old …hanging banners, handing out brochures, stubbing tickets…any odd job that you could think of. It always seemed like hard work at the time, but I was at a race track and it was a blast. I did that up until I began working at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, NC in 1991. I drove the pace car at the track and also worked at Tri-County Motor Speedway in Hudson, NC up until the end of 1995 when I got my first chance to work for NASCAR in their newest series…the Supertruck Series by Craftsman. I worked a couple of races that year and then went full time with the series the next year where I remained until the end of the 1999 season. I backed away from officiating but worked within the sport until I returned to NASCAR in 2008 in the position that I have now.
I can remember dreaming about being a director of a series while watching my dad when I was growing up. You can’t imagine how great it feels to be living that dream!
3. Since you have a deep connection with the sport, is there any pressure you put on yourself to keep certain traditions alive?
I don’t know if you would say that there are any pressures that I have put on myself…but I do find myself doing things in certain ways. I have been very fortunate to have been taught by some of the best in our sport. My dad ranks right up there as one of the best teachers…seeing him direct a number of series while growing up and even working with him at Caraway and Tri-County Speedways. He made sure that I learned many different aspects of the sport…from scoring to flagging to working on pit road to working in a safety truck. I don’t know if he meant to teach me so much by putting me into all of those different roles…but it has helped me understand all of those duties and what our officials are going thru during the course of an event. Other great teachers I have had in our sport include Wayne Auton and David Hoots. I feel like that I have had the opportunity to learn from the best and I find myself doing things in our series that they have incorporated into the Truck and Cup Series for years. I don’t know if those are really traditions that I am keeping alive…but I am doing my best to apply what I have learned over the years.
4. How important is it to you to help those small home tracks relevant?
Our Hometracks are where we are finding our next stars and it helps us bridge the gaps for the drivers who are making the jump out of their local divisions into the K&N Pro Series on their way up the ladder into the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series. Plus, racing at these tracks gives the fans an opportunity to see these drivers before they become the stars of those series. Hopefully, as our drivers move up the ladder, the fans will move along with them…which will be great for the entire sport.
5. You stated that you want to get the younger generation more involved with the entire racing experience. What are your current plans to do so?
We try and engage our younger fans whenever and wherever possible. We have autograph sessions at every race, driver appearances at local schools and youth clubs and we try to make our garage areas friendly to families who are at the tracks. We want the next group of drivers, crew members and even officials to have an opportunity to see our group up close and in person when they are at the tracks. The racing bug bit me at an early age…there’s no reason that it can’t bite the kids we see at the tracks each and every race.