Bradberry, Hamner and Norris Make Headlines Once More for a Racing Rich Area
Take three guys from Alabama, give them driving ability and turn them loose on the short tracks of the Southeast. Sometimes they race against each other, sometimes they travel together, sometimes they have close hard fought battles and sometimes they get a little mad at another one. Sometimes, they might even be competing on opposite ends of the country. But there is one thing that remains a constant among all of these racing variables; the three are always looking out for each other and respecting the abilities of the other two.
share the geographical and competitive traits of their forefathers. Charlie Bradberry, Josh Hamner and J.R. Norris are all from around the Birmingham area and they are, “The New Alabama Gang.”
You could look at the three almost as siblings. Norris, having recently turned 25, is the oldest of the group. Bradberry is the 22-year-old middle child and Hamner is the up and coming kid brother. He’s still in High School and is only 17 years old.
Josh Hamner (L), J.R. Norris (M) and Charlie Bradberry (R) are carving out a little bit of racing history themselves these days.
“They are like my two older brothers,” said Hamner. “I don’t have an older brother, but those two are like family to me.”
“The three of us are all close friends,” said Bradberry. “J.R. and I have been chasing each other since we were young. We raced karts together, in the Allison Legacy Series against each other and in 1999, we both moved up to Late Models at the same time. It’s been really neat so far and I wish him the best of luck as he moves up.”
And like brothers, most of the time they get along good, but there are a few moments that sibling rivalry comes through.
“Charlie and I practically grew up together,” said Norris. “We always raced together. We’ve been friends and we’ve had racing incidents. And yes there have been times when we’ve even wanted to beat the crap out of each other after a race.”
Interestingly enough, Bradberry and Norris have achieved their biggest successes in the NASCAR Southeast Series, yet they have not competed against each other on a regular basis there. Bradberry won the 2003 SES championship, but tried the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last year with his family-operated team. Meanwhile, Norris turned the SES world on its ear last season as a rookie. He won at Nashville Superspeedway and finished second in the point standings.
The back-to-back years of success for this duo are not a new thing. Bradberry was named Rookie of the year in Southern All Stars Super Late Model competition in 2000. The next year, Norris stepped up and won the same award.
Note the Hamner Race Engines hat that Bradberry is wearing.
“Charlie told me to follow him around in practice,” said Hamner. “That would help me get around the track a little bit quicker.”
It worked. Bradberry qualified on the pole for the race and Hamner was right behind him with a third-place effort in time trials.
But Bradberry isn’t the only one with an eye of Hamner.
But the two have gone head to head as well. Norris was the 1998 Allison Legacy car Alabama State champion, while Bradberry was named as Rookie of the Year during the same season.
They’ve won at tracks all over the Southeast, but no win has been bigger to date than Bradberry’s 2003 victory in the Snowball Derby. Yet, Bradberry might not have been the happiest person in victory lane that day. You see, there was a teenaged admirer that was smiling from ear to ear as well.
(Top to Bottom) The rides of the gang include Norris' #5 SES car, the #78 NASCAR Craftsman Truck that Bradberry drove last year and Hamner's #38 Super Late Model.
“I was going to Charlie’s races before I was old enough to even get into the pits,” recalls Hamner. “I was there for a lot of his Southern All Star wins. The one that really stands out though is when he won the Snowball Derby (in 2003). I was the first one down in victory lane with him after the race.”
“Josh was on my crew starting when he was 12 years old,” said Bradberry. His Dad builds my engines and I’ve known Josh forever it seems. We haven’t raced each other much before because we’ve been in different classes, but with him moving up to the Super Late Models this year, we will and that will be really neat.”
Both Bradberry and Hamner got the opportunity to compete against each other at Birmingham International Raceway this past month, well, sort of. They were both entered in the SAS season opener and took part in practice and qualifying. The race was rained out, however, not before they got together to help each other go faster.
Norris accepts his Rookie of the Year award at the Southeast Series banquet for 2004.
recalls Norris. “When he died, I thought, “Who do I look up to now?”
“I remember going to play with Davey’s kids before he died,” said Hamner. “I was real small, but I remember they had a big lake in their backyard with a fountain and a little beach around it.”
“I remember watching Davey race and I was a big fan of his,” said Bradberry. “I’ve met Bobby Allison several times and I’m good friends with Donnie Allison now. I ran in the Allison Legacy Series before moving up to Late Models and Donnie is heavily involved with that. He’s given me a lot of advice and I call him every once in awhile.”
In the 1970’s those three racers would have been named Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison and Neil Bonnett. Even a modern day newcomer fan knows those names as three of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. They were the original Alabama Gang and the victories and championships that they racked up were legendary. (EDITOR’S Note: Red Farmer was also part of the original Alabama Gang, but the two Allisons and Bonnet always received the most notoriety.)
In 2005, there are three new young men trying to carve out a little history for themselves and they
“Josh is kind of like a little brother to me,” said Norris. “I try to keep an eye out for him and step in when he needs a little help. He’s come a long way in a short amount of time. He has really surprised me. He didn’t run karts before cars like Charlie or I did and I’m really proud of him.”
All three drivers are also well aware of the past when it comes to Alabama racing. Bradberry’s brother Gary competed against the late Davey Allison in NASCAR Cup competition and all three remember his impact on the sport – and their own lives.
“I knew Davey, not really well because I was pretty much too young, but I was around him and looked up to him,”
Like Bradberry, the other two also have ties to the other generations of Allisons.
“My grandfather, Bill Hamner, was crew chief for Bobby Allison in 1979,” said Hamner. “He was next door neighbors with Bobby Allison forever. We have old videos of some of their races.”
Hamner’s Grandfather also had a lasting impact on today’s sport.
“He claims to be the first person to glue the lugnuts on the wheels for Bobby’s pit stops,” said Hamner. “I’ve seen the videos of their stops and they had the same
routine back then, but it wasn’t as fast as these guys are today.”
“I’ve watched the old races on ESPN Classic and I’ve heard hundreds of stories,” said Norris.
And all three are humbly aware of how they can carry the flag for Alabama racing in the future.
“That deal was so big and it died down after the tragedies,” said Hamner. “Now with it starting back up again around us, it means a lot. I don’t know how many years it’s really been to have three guys like this running together and I’m really surprised that nobody before has tried to start it back up again. It’s not lost on us. Some people ask us about it and we talk about it among ourselves. Now that I’m moving up, we are all starting to work together.”
But being from Alabama might not be the advantage that it once was for a short track driver.
“It’s sad to say, but in this day and time it doesn’t mean as much to the decision makers in racing to be from Alabama,” said Bradberry. “It would probably be better for us if we were from California in that respect. They just aren’t picking good old short track racers from the Southeast for the big rides right now. That used to be the way to go, but Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart changed that in the 1990’s. Now picking a sprint car guy seems to be the way to go.”
Still, the three are determined to make a name for themselves
“I hope that we can all bring this sport back to Alabama,” said Norris. “Even if just one of us makes it, I’ll be proud.”
And when that happens, the other two will be right alongside to celebrate.
“Both of them have said that if one of them makes it, I will make it,” said Hamner. “They are pretty competitive with each other and I grew up coming up right behind them.”
These three will continue to be heard from for years to come and one thing's for certain, whether any one of the three are running at Birmingham, in the Snowball Derby or in the Daytona 500, the other two won't be very far away.
Hamner has deep racing roots.
Before even the Allisons, Alabama had Red Farmer - who is still racing a Dirt Late Model at the Talladega Short Track.