Dan Spence has seen a lot during his 48-year career in motorsports. Whether it be from the flag stand, the tower or the tech line, he's nearly seen it all. In recent years, Spence has spent the majority of his time as the race director for the Southern Super Series and events at Five Flags Speedway (FL). That will change in 2019 as he is preparing to step down from his position as race director and return to his roots on the flag stand at the Pensacola, Florida oval.
"It's not that I didn’t enjoy going to the race track, but it just wasn’t quite the same. I wanted to sort of get back to where I started," Spence told Speed51.com. "I’ve always enjoyed being on the flag stand. I did that for many, many years. I thought that I would try to finish out my career back where I started on the flag stand and let some younger guys step into those other spots. It’s been good, but I’m just ready to get back up there doing what I enjoy doing and what I’ve loved doing from the very beginning.”
Tim Bryant, the promoter of Five Flags Speedway and the Southern Super Series, has worked hand-in-hand with Spence for many years and looks forward to seeing him return to a place he calls home.
"Dan Spence has played a huge role in the history and growth of Five Flags Speedway," Bryant began. "He's displayed great leadership for many years, and we think it's testament to his character that he has chosen to finish the last few years of his career in the flag stand where he started."
Spence's story began as a young child sitting on his father's shoulders on the hill at Lake View Speedway in Grand Bay, Alabama. It was there that he developed a love for the sport; however, it was a connection he made during his high school years that would ultimately lead him to the flag stand.
“When I was in high school, the Supermodified cars were the big thing then in 60s. Down here, we had a five night a week circuit going on. The guy that was flagging all five nights owned the florist shop here in Mobile. His name was Eddie Niedemeyer. I used to go hang out at Eddie’s shop and talk racing with him. He asked me one day if I would like to be a flag man. I was 16 or 17, it sounded good to me. I started going with him some. He sort of taught me the ropes. Eddie had cancer and nobody knew it. He didn’t tell anybody. When Eddie got to the point he couldn’t go anymore, he gave me my first set of flags."
From there, Spence landed his first gig as a flag man at Citronelle Motor Speedway, a quarter-mile oval race track located just north of Mobile, Alabama. In 1974, he was hired by Tom Dawson (the namesake of the Snowball Derby trophy) as a flag man at Five Flags Speedway.
Since that time, Spence has traveled all over the country officiating short track racing events at 80 different race tracks in 21 states. In addition to working at tracks throughout the Gulf Coast region, he also toured with the All Pro Series, the NASCAR Slim Jim All Pro Series and the ASA National Tour.
Along the way, the now 67-year-old race official has been a part of many memorable moments in racing history. He was on the flag stand for Jimmie Johnson's first major stock car victory, an ASA National Tour win at Memphis Motorsports Park. He was also a member of the committee that allowed 2018 NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano to compete on the ASA National Tour at the age of 14.
"When you first start out, you have certain goals just like any racer or crew chief," Spence stated. "You have certain goals and things you want to accomplish, place you want to go. Maybe I didn’t accomplish all my goals but in a way I did. I was able to work at the highest levels of the sport and I had an opportunity to make a living doing it."
Although he is best known for his role as a race director and flagman, Spence has displayed an ability and desire to do whatever it takes at the race track. In fact, he's made it known that as long as he's around he'll do nearly anything to help those he is working with.
"Tim still wants me, even though I won’t be the race director, at all of the Southern Super Series races," Spence said. "I may be in race control some during practice, qualifying and I may even be up there in the race as another set of eyes. It just depends on the setup of each track and what needs to be done. Through the years, I have driven a pace car, I have worked in the tech line holding the dumb end of the stick, and when I was working with NASCAR and All-Pro I ran the scales everywhere we went before we hit the race track. I’ve done some scoring, just about anything through the years.
"I told Tim and a few other guys at the race track that I’ll do anything except clean toilets, man a gate or work spotterville. I will not do any of those three things," he said with a laugh.
It has now been 19 years since the last time Spence stood in a flag stand for a major stock car race. However, it has not been that long since he stood in a flag stand for a race in general.
“Not last year, but maybe the year before, I actually got back on the flag stand for most of the season at Sunny South Raceway for Wayne Okrzesik, Connor’s dad, who owns that little quarter-mile here in Grand Bay," Spence explained. "He didn’t have a flagman and I had some Saturday nights off so I went out and flagged for him and had a great time. It was no pressure out there, it was Legends, Mini Stocks and those types of cars. I really enjoyed it.”
In 2019, Spence will once again have an opportunity to do what he enjoys most. When the green flag waves at Five Flags Speedway this season, it will be a veteran of the sport doing what he loves and smiling like a kid in a candy shop.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com