Going back 15 years, former race car driver Lynn Carroll set up a meeting between Vance and NASCAR officials at a local McDonald’s on a Thursday afternoon when the Cup Series was racing at Bristol. He and his background in racing made a favorable impression, and Vance was hired on the spot.
Being from the Tri-Cities has its advantages, Vance said.
“The one thing I like about doing the Modifieds, all the drivers I work with, there is no one local,” he said. “You don’t build up a close relationship with any of them. You know them and see them at the racetrack, but in your mind when you get there, you see a car number. I carry a notebook with me that I’ve had since 2006.
“Whenever I make a call, I log it down. I pride myself that if I made that decision in 2006, it’s the same call I make today. I’ve had to make some tough calls and upset people, had people mad at us, but you have to stand firm in what you believe.”
Vance often relies on his own racing experience in those situations. He served as a crew chief for his father, Buddy, before starting to race himself in Mini-Cup cars — and eventually become a regional champion.
He moved to the big cars, driving in the Super Stock and Limited classes at Kingsport Speedway, where he won both track and NASCAR regional championships.
Most appealing to NASCAR, he had a varied background. Vance became the general manager at Volunteer Speedway and then Kingsport Speedway before the track closed in 2002. He worked for the UARA Late Model Series before going back to work at Loven Ready Mix.
When forced into the position of making a judgment call, Vance and other NASCAR officials rely on their experience. Sometimes, they can’t know who is most responsible for contact between cars. Other times, say when someone brake-checks on a restart, it’s clearer.
“My series director, Jimmy Wilson, we lean on each other when we make calls,” Vance said. “Like on a restart, we will watch for the nose of the car to lift. You can tell when people are playing games when they get in the restart zone.
“Sometimes in the corners at a flat track like Martinsville, you will see someone stop in the center of the corner and then pick the throttle back up. A lot of different games can be played to progress yourself.”
Vance still works at Ready Mix and is considered a NASCAR part-timer. He turned down an opportunity for a full-time position with one of the national series last year to spend time with his wife, Marcy, and watch son Bryson play football and basketball at Sullivan North. He was glad for the memories they shared.
“They were competitive in both sports,” Vance said about the Golden Raiders. “They played poorly when they got in the (district basketball) tournament and got knocked out by Cloudland, who they had beaten by 15, 20 points both times they played them. It was a bad off night, which can happen, and got them knocked out.
“You can have an off day as a race car driver, too. The conditions, the way things are working, sometimes you get somebody that works harder than you do and it humbles you. Other times, you will just miss the whole setup or have so many variables to take you out.”
Hearkening back to his driving days, Vance recalls one special win at Kingsport.
He was getting in a good rhythm and releasing the steering wheel coming off turn 2. Each time he kept getting closer to the wall, but by reflex he would lean his leg to the left. However, he never lifted off the throttle and eventually brushed the wall. Despite that, he raced to the win.
Another good memory was his last race, which he won driving a car owned by Brad Housewright. His 1999 NASCAR Winston Racing Series Blue Ridge Region championship, however, wasn’t all that enjoyable.
“It was a great privilege to win the championship, but the work and attitude you had to have mentally, knowing every time you went to the racetrack you had to win, it took the fun out of it,” he said. “You couldn’t finish second, and I hated running for points for that deal.”
Vance didn’t have the resources to continue his dream as a driver, and he questions how far he could have gone. It’s something he doesn’t necessarily regret but has often wondered about.
“I didn’t have the money or opportunity to make it to the next level,” he said. “I felt good about my crew chiefing, my setups and all that, but I don’t know if I was good enough to make it as a driver. We will never know. I won a lot of races, but I think that was a lot from the setups. I felt I could put anyone in my cars and felt they could win.”