Auto racing cultivates a lot of feel-good stories and unlikely successes, but none may be more inspiring than Jeff Dickerson’s.
The Indianapolis native has gone from changing gears on Tyce Carlson’s midget to spotting for Jeff Gordon to representing Kyle Busch to working for Chip Ganassi… to Victory Lane last Sunday at Daytona as a winning NASCAR car owner.
Rookie Justin Haley was declared the winner of the Coke Zero 400 when rain brought out the red flag, and decided the outcome with Haley out in front in Dickerson’s Spire Motorsports Chevy.
“It’s a great story, and I’m happy for Jeff,” said Ganassi, who has had a working relationship for years with Dickerson involving drivers and sponsors. “I’m disappointed we didn’t win, but I’m glad he did, so he kept it in the family, so to speak.”
As a 17-year-old at North Central High School back in 1993, Dickerson was infatuated with racing but had no connections. So he started writing letters to Carlson, a North Central grad six years older who was running USAC midgets and sprints at the time.
“So I invited him to go to Salem with us,” recalls Carlson, a two-time Indy 500 starter who runs a real estate business today. “We came home, I dropped him off and two hours later he called and asked if he could come stay with me for a while. His dad had died when he was real young, and his mom had basically kicked him out of his house because he wanted to be a racer.
“I was 23 and living with my wife-to-be (Christy) at the time in an apartment, but I said, sure come on up. He showed up with two pillowcases full of clothes and stayed for four years.”
During that time, Dickerson learned how to set up a chassis, work on engines and whatever else needed to be done. But he made friends as fast as he picked up the nuances of racing, and after working with ace fabricator Danny Drinan, he went back with Carlson to be the team manager/spotter of Hubbard/Imke in the Indy Racing League. It was also during this time that Carlson bought his friend a midget and he began racing at the 16th Street Speedway.
But after helping Robbie Buhl’s IRL team, Jeff got a call from Cary Agajanian that changed his career path. Aggie represented a lot of drivers at that time and saw how connected Dickerson was with all the young stars in USAC, so he hired him. When the son of the longtime Indy 500 car owner decided he was done with being an agent, his protégé formed Spire and signed Busch as one of his first clients in 2003.
Since then, Dickerson has represented Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse, Ross Chastain, Landon Cassel and the late Jason Leffler. But despite having no formal training in that area or marketing, he had a gift for putting deals together, and that impressed Ganassi.
“Jeff is a go-getter and a hard-working guy with a good knowledge of this sport from grass roots all the way to the top,” said Ganassi. “He can talk to anybody and knows how things get done.”
Adds Carlson: “Everything he did was self-made and because of his personality and ability to put deals together. People trust him.”
Last year he and partner T.J. Puchyr borrowed $6 million to buy a NASCAR charter with the goal of growing Spire into a full-time Cup effort. Dickerson wasn’t at Daytona to celebrate, but Carlson texted him afterwards.
“He’s like my little brother and I just knew he was going to go somewhere in racing because of his drive and his smarts,” said Carlson. “This doesn’t surprise me. It’s only the beginning.”