Inside Atlanta - Special Profile

ATLANTA RACE DRIVER ON VERGE OF HISTORY

By Hal Lamar

Since the age of 10, Sam Tompkins has dreamed of the day when he'd have enough money to build the race car of his dreams and compete with the best of the best.

Well, patience for the Virginia native now living in Atlanta has paid off.

Tompkins has sunk close to $250,000 of his own personal dollars in custom building a Chevy S-10 pickup to compete in the Pro Stock Truck Drag Racing circuit.

Pro Stock Truck Drag Racing is a new facet to the incredibly lucrative NHRA drag racing circuit. Now please don't confuse this aspect of race with back-road dirt events by amateurs or street corner trash talkers with souped-up old rides. The level that Tompkins will compete in is big money, big business. NHRA drag racing has attracted millions via improved TV coverage (primarily on ESPN) and now enjoys crowds that cross the board socio-economically. It is no longer a sport which attracts only deep south red necks who swivel beers and shout obscenities between events. And more black faces are also showing up at these events. The results; a sport which attracts $80 million dollars annually...in television rights alone!! The dollar figure the sport brings in from merchandising, marketing, ticket sales, concessions...well, let's just say that its' more than the GNP of most developing nations.

But racing of all sorts still is void black faces as participants. Tompkins car will become only the third owned by a black to compete at the sports penthouse level. The other two include a brother who's attempting to break new ground in motorcycle racing. The only man of color to win a NASCAR event was the late Wendell Scott, who did the trick over 30 years ago. ( By the way, another Atlanta African American, Les Montgomery, is trying hard to crack NASCAR. He recently picked up the support of CNN-Headline News). Blacks like Willie T Ribbs and others have attempted to crack the formula car market via Indianapolis and other popular venues but were stymied principally by money.

 

Sam Tompkins and Les Montgomery
Sam Tompkins (L), and Les Montgomery

Now, Sam Tompkins doesn't have a bottomless pit of funds but he is in a position to get a better head start than most other "bloods" and , ironically, it was his yearn to race and compete that provided those funds.

Here the pitch Over 20 years ago, Tompkins and a friend, Richard Wood, wanted desperately to compete in the high echelons of auto racing. The flesh and spirit was willing but their collective pocketbooks were shallow and weak. Tompkins had freshly graduated from Norfolk State University, entered the Armed Forces and became an officer. One morning, Wood stopped by his billet with an idea for making money. They would tour gas stations, garages and other places that serviced autos and , for pennies on the dollar, offered to take worn and torn engine parts off the hands of the owners. They , in turn, sold the " junk" parts to rebuilders for a sizable profit.

That started Wood and Tompkins Cores. 20 years and some movements later, the company grosses over $5 million dollars a year.

Sam Tompkins' Car Engine

Despite his success, Tompkins still hungered for the track . So with his own resources, he sought out the best the sport has to offer and built his dream car. He refused to cut corners. Jerry Haas, considered the Hank Aaron of car manufacturers ( his racers always hit home runs on the track) was hired to design the chassis and build the rig. Tompkins sought out and obtained the best for everything from engine to paint job. "I'm not overly concerned about finance, " he said. " I just want to put a competitor on the track."

Just a few weeks ago, Sam's heart leaped from his chest to his mouth when he and crew members sojourned to Commerce Georgia to test the vehicle. On it's second pass, the auto came to within milliseconds of the national record for pro stock trucks.

 

" We screamed and hollered from Commerce all the way back to Atlanta, " he said. I just couldn't believe it. My crew chief, Dave Aloisio ( who built the engine) couldn't believe it either."

Tompkins says they now want for sponsors. " I can't do this alone. I need help. The season starts in February and it's a long one."

A business looking to spread its name and improve or enhance its image couldn't go wrong latching their entreprenural stars to Tompkins the pioneer..

How's this for exposure. Last year, 76 NHRA racing events were carried on four national TV nets. They reached 37.5 million households and a total of 60 million viewers. Best guesstimates are that in 1999, those figures will double..maybe triple. And what does that mean in bucks? Well, according to statistics, 671 individual event sponsors reaped $58,458,440 dollars worth of value...in-pocket profits and in-kind exposure.

And if TV exposure isn't enough, consider that the average attendance at NHRA events is 100,000 . Crowds of 110,000 at one event is becoming the rule, not the exception.

 

Sam Tompkins' Car

The number of available cars available for sponsorship is dwindling as the sport increases and intensifies its popularity. And those with Tompkins potential to do great and wonderful things in their rookie season is even smaller.

These days, Sam Tompkins is as fidgety as a kid waiting for Christmas. He is hard at work certifying himself so he can drive his own vehicle (just who did you think would be driving?)

" I'm trying to be patient, " he says excitedly. " I still got my business to run and I want to make sure my mentoring program for young boys and girls called Another Way Out continues to reach out. But I can barely contain myself. I wish the season could start right now. "

The number of available cars available for sponsorship is dwindling as the sport increases and intensifies its popularity. And those with Tompkins potential to do great and wonderful things in their rookie season is even smaller.

These days, Sam Tompkins is as fidgety as a kid waiting for Christmas. He is hard at work certifying himself so he can drive his own vehicle (just who did you think would be driving?)

" I'm trying to be patient, " he says excitedly. " I still got my business to run and I want to make sure my mentoring program for young boys and girls called Another Way Out continues to reach out. But I can barely contain myself. I wish the season could start right now.

Go back to Inside Atlanta

Got a question about Atlanta? E mail it to me at lamar95@bellsouth.net.


Hal Lamar is an reporter/anchor for Atlanta radio stations WAOK(AM) and WVEE(FM). He is also an active freelancer with contributing articles to Emerge, Black Enterprise, Cappers Weekly, Paraplegic News, Jet, Sports Illustrated and Balls and Strikes. He also is southeastern correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks.

NEWSFLASH***************

Hal has recently created hal lamar news service, representing a number of radio nets (SBN, ABC) and newspapers. If you have or know a many mailing list that Hal's new venture should be aware of, contact him at the email address above, or at.

Hal Lamar News Service
2740 Greenbriar Pkwy
Suite A-3186
Atlanta, GA. 30331

 


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