Special from The Tennessean – A lot of history has been made over the past few years about young drivers competing at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and other tracks in the area.
NASCAR’s most popular driver and 2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott raced at Nashville Fairgrounds when he was 13, and so did Chandler Smith, who is now in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Same for Chase Johnson, a rising local star from Mt. Juliet, who is now 15.
There’s no denying a youth movement is taking place on the local racing scene and that’s what makes longtime driver James Climer’s decision to return to the track so unique.
Climer is bucking the trend. He will be 81 when climbs back into his racecar and competes this season in the pro late models division at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. He will warm up with a 50-lap race at Highland Rim Speedway on April 2.
Climer, who acquired the nickname “King” because of the many local races he has won over the years, will become the oldest driver to compete at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, according to local stockcar racing historian Donnie Redd. The oldest driver to win a race at the Fairgrounds was Dick Stegall, who was 68.
So why is Climer, who has competed in thousands of races in his lifetime, coming back?
The COVID-19 pandemic was particularly hard on the Murfreesboro resident, who is still very active. Being cooped up in his home took a toll. Now that Climer feels like it’s safe again to get out, he’s doing it in a big way.
“I’ve stayed at home and I’ve worn my mask anytime I’ve gone out,” Climer said. “That’s something you’ve got to do until we get this stuff straightened out. I don’t mind that at all, but I don’t like staying at home. I’m ready to get back out. I feel good and I want to race again so why not?”
Climer’s first race will be April 2 at Nashville. His first race at Highland Rim will be April 16. The remainder of his season will be dictated by how well he runs in those races.
“My plan is to run two races to see how things go,” he said. “If they go well and I feel good about it I’ll stick with it the whole season. I’ve got a good car, I’m ready and I’m excited because I believe it’s going to go well.”
Climer began his racing career in 1964 at the Smyrna dirt track. He recorded more than 600 wins competing across the country before his last race in 2010.
Climer has lots of ties to Nashville Fairgrounds Superspeedway. Along with winning many track titles there over the years, Climer beat his son Tommy in a late model sportsman race there in 1995, when he was 56. The father and son are both in the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway Hall of Fame.
In 2002, Climer’s granddaughter and Tommy’s daughter Brittany became the first female driver to compete against males when she was 13. She resumed racing in 2020 and won a street stock race at the Fairgrounds.
Speaking of Climer’s family, they’ve told him they’re worried about his safety when it comes to getting back into the car.
“I had to remind them that when I was 17 I had to jump from a two-story building when I was a roofer and there was a fire,” Climer said. “I landed in a mud hole that was 17-and–a-half feet from the building. The only way I was able to make it to that mud hole is because God was looking out for me. He’s still looking out for me today. That’s what I told my family.”
Climer’s longtime sponsor Springfield Plumbing still believes in him and is sponsoring his ride again.
By: Mike Organ – The Tennessean