Bill Plemons, a Role Model On and Off
How did you find your passion for auto racing?
Many found their passion by going to their local racetrack with friends or family. For Bill Plemons Jr., it started with playing with toy cars for hours before going to the fabled Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta with his father in the late 1950s and early 60s.
A few years later, after serving in the U.S. Air Force and entering the insurance business, a friend of Plemons invited him to a race at Senoia Speedway. As he watched the race, he thought that was something he wanted to give a try. One month later, Plemons was a proud owner of a race car. The thirst for competition has been a key factor in his will to race. Since that day at Senoia, Plemons has driven Late Models and Super Late Models with racing experience on dirt and asphalt.
“I’ve always had a fascination with driving cars,” said Plemons. “Watching [cars] race each other and who would win – the competitive side of it. I just thought, ‘Man, that would be really cool. I’d like to do it.’”
Lakewood might be gone, but Plemons’ passion for racing has never wavered, and it’s morphed into something more significant. Over the years, he has enjoyed helping and inspiring others to achieve their racing dreams.
Whether it’s a young racer just learning to race or an older driver finally realizing a dream, Plemons is always willing to help. His assistance comes in more than one form, one of which is simply communicating with them how to race.
“I’m the guy that bubbles through the pits and talks to everybody,” said Plemons. When he does this, a conversation might strike up, and he’ll find someone needing some assistance in one way or another.
Plemons shared, “I enjoy helping people if they want to help themselves. Some of them I help don’t need any financial help. Some need financial help.”
Legend Car racing might be one of the most affordable forms of racing, but racing is still inherently expensive. Plemons has lent drivers engines who needed one because he doesn’t want someone to miss out on a portion of their season because of financial constraints when he has the means to help them. He notes it’s not as simple as buying a car, a couple of sets of tires, and going racing. On top of that, there’s the inevitable parts bill for new or replacement parts.
Aside from helping financially, he’s also helped new racers by selling them proven high-performing cars. Plemons and his team break in a car, work out the kinks, make the proper adjustments within the rules, and sell them. He warns that buying a brand-new car isn’t always the best path unless you have the proper mechanical and engineering knowledge.
On the track, Plemons takes pride in the example he sets to all but particularly those he mentors, of which there have been many, and he actively helps a few.
“The goal I have is to be able to drive and pass cars and never touch them,” said Plemons. “I don’t want to go into the corners and bump them out of the way. Anybody can do that. You got to wait for them to make a mistake, and they’ll respect you as a driver. They’re entitled to that position until they bobble. Sometimes you run out of laps.”
Two drivers whom he currently mentors are Donovan Strauss and Garrett Gumm. Plemons cites both as impressive drivers on the track with their talent and discipline and having the right attitudes and composure off the track.
“Bill (Plemons) has been an insanely good mentor for me throughout my racing career,” said Strauss. “Not only on the track, but off the track, and helping me develop as a person. He’s done a lot for Legend Car racing and me, and I’m forever grateful.”
Gumm shared that Plemons hasn’t only helped him learn more about racing on the track but off the track, as well.
“He has taught me about the marketing side of racing and how to represent a company well,” Gumm said. “Racing is a sport of highs and lows, and he has helped me learn to keep my emotions level. We talk about the path I need for a career in racing and each step I need to take to succeed. He’s a great competitor on the track and an amazing person and mentor.”
Possessing the right attitude, the ability to communicate and learn, and the talent to race is a winning combination for Plemons. He points to current NASCAR Cup Series stars Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and William Byron as role models for the latest young racers to look up to as they climb the ladder right. However, he highlights a seven-time Cup champion as the best example.
“Jimmie Johnson is probably one the best. He’s probably one of the best role models you could work with, and he’s shown himself as a true champion.”
Plemons strongly believes that when a driver reaches the age of 18 or 19, they need to be in an ARCA Menards Series ride at Daytona. If they do well there, people will take notice. But for those who have entered the Masters division, ages 40 and older, and may not be Daytona bound, he still has words of advice.
“You’ve already accomplished the goal just being able to own [a car] and being able to strap in it. Nobody is expecting you to go out there and set the woods on fire, but learn to race. You got to learn to get through the corners as quick as you can.”
Plemons continued, “There are two types of older guys. Ones that’s never did it, and they can with INEX and a Legend Car. And those who have had a career racing that simply want to do it.”
For those who “never did it,” Plemons is happy to share where they can improve their racing line and craft. Like the younger generation, he helps the Masters with setups and exchanges advice. Plemons stresses that when he is behind you, he won’t intentionally wreck you. He’ll make himself pass you because he either got through a corner better or you made a mistake. If you can hold Plemons off for a win, he feels like he’s won, too, because he didn’t knock you out of the way, and he will be satisfied with a second-place finish.
Maybe the most important part of being a role model in the Masters division is setting the tone for how adults conduct themselves, especially in the eyes of younger drivers. Whether on or off the track, Plemons wants the older generation to show the younger racers how to compete correctly and speak respectfully.
A unique form of respect that Plemons gives his fellow competitors occurs during races that have a combined Legend Car field. Across the country, Legend Car races will often have multiple classes racing with one another. When that happens, the goal for Plemons is not to win the overall race. Instead, it’s to be the highest-finishing Masters driver, something he hopes others take notice of because he doesn’t want to affect the outcome of another division’s race or championship. If he can win the race, he will, but it’s never the main goal in a combined race.
Racing since 1976, Plemons didn’t race a Legend Car until Atlanta Motor Speedway installed a quarter-mile in 1997. His passion for racing has taken him to tracks across the country. Along the way, he’s helped many in a variety of ways.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to make enough money to sponsor and help some kids, sponsor the series and give back to what I dearly loved and have a passion for.”
What does Plemons, who will compete as a 75-year-old Master in 2023 and go for his fifth-straight Golden Masters title, hope to leave behind?
“As someone that’s never given up on anything. Never given up and being able to sit back and say I’ve enjoyed a sport and gave back as much as I can give, and to say I raced until I was 80 years old.”
He’s still winning and captured three wins in 2022. Until the day comes, he can’t win and achieve his goals; he’ll be behind the wheel of a Legend Car. If and when that day does arrive, you’ll still find Plemons at the race track helping others achieve their racing goals where he can.
“If I couldn’t win, I’d put somebody in the car that could – and it would be someone with the same passion for the sport I have.”