By Phil Whipple,
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
MARBLE FALLS, Texas — Among the many colorful characters within the Texas short track scene, one man who has been involved in just about every aspect of the sport stands above the rest. He's raced in a number of classes, he's promoted a track, and now, he's serving as a co-announcer at Cotton Bowl.
For 44-year-old Joe Spillman, a chance to share his knowledge and interact with race fans was a no-brainer. After dealing with the hassles of track operation, he's loving this new role on the microphone.
“I'm actually having a lot of fun with this role,” Spillman said. “I get to mix my racing knowledge on the technical side and interact with the audience, as well. And the banter that Rodney Rodriguez and I share is a blast. It's the best of all worlds, plus I don't have to go home and work on my race car.
“But what really makes my night is seeing somebody get their first feature win. To interview a first-time winner gives me the chance to see and hear that raw emotion. It is a very cool, fun thing to do.”
Spillman's background in the sport is extensive, having been involved in at least some capacity for decades. He's also spent some time away from the sport, yet like a magnet, it keeps drawing him back.
“I got my start way back in the mid 1990s,” he explained. “I raced a Street Stock at Heart O' Texas Speedway in Waco, but only for a couple of years. I also drove my uncle's car a little on the asphalt at Longhorn Speedway. I got married when I was just 18 or 19, so the racing took a back seat for a while.
“In about 2006 or 2007, I got back into the sport because the kids were a little older and it was more practical,” Spillman explained. “I could take them to the race track, which made it easier. I started out racing in a Sport Mod, raced that for four of five months then we found us a Modified.”
From there, it was in the man's blood for life. He still owns a Mod, by the way, and still races a little.
“For a while, we ran both the Sport Mod and the Modified, because back then you could do that. Today, they have a rule that prevents that. We ran both cars for a while, but that was a lot to tackle. When the IMCA Stock cars became more popular, we raced one of those and the Modified at the same time.”
Spillman's time as the promoter at 281 Speedway left a bitter taste in his mouth. He poured his soul into the place, and things were great for a while, yet it didn't quite work out the way he'd hoped.
“The 281 experience kind of burned me out a little bit on racing,” Spillman said. “In 2016 and 2017 when we started at 281, from January on I was at a race track every weekend. I mean like, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the track every week. I just needed a little bit of a break after that whole deal.
“I still have a race car, I still have my IMCA license, and I still love the sport. I raced earlier this year in Abilene. I just haven't gone back out yet, the car is just sitting here. But I'll go racing in due time.”
Spillman got to do something in the sport most folks only dream about last year, and he had a blast.
“I raced in the famed Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it was an experience I'll never forget,” he said. “That is a very unique and exciting event, and now I can say I've been in it. It was awesome.”
As this bizarre season unfolds with all of its pandemic-related restrictions, Spillman says things are now returning to the way they were in previous years, for the most part.
“It's been kind of a weird situation this year, for sure,” he said. “At first, everybody, the racers, fans, all of them, were happy just to be back at the track. But now, as we've gotten back into our normal rhythm, the racers are right back on social media complaining about getting spun out, or track conditions.
“In my mind, people have already forgotten just how lucky we are to even be racing at all this year. We could all be sitting at home still playing games. I just think we need to be mindful of how fortunate we are, and maybe keep the complaints to a minimum. The promoters worked hard so we could still play.”
Before you know it, this funky and completely messed up season will be over (look at how late we started, for Pete's sake) and plans for 2021 will start to take shape. Spillman knows where he wants to be.
“As of right now I hope to be right back at Cotton Bowl working with Rodney Rodriguez,” he said. “I'll also race my Modified a little part-time, but I'm really loving this no-stress part of the sport. If they'll have me back next season, I'd love to do this again. I just hope the fans enjoy it as much as I do.”