From 2001-08, Spencer Andrews' life centered around NASCAR racing. Andrews, an Arkansas native, had earned a bachelor's degree in biology with a writing concentration from Davidson College in North Carolina. But it was racing rather than biology that was his passion.
Andrews stayed in North Carolina after graduation, working in the Charlotte area for Motorsports Management Group, Roush Fenway Racing, Braun Racing, Wasserman Media Group and ClearBlue Communication.
In 2008, the talented Andrews returned to Little Rock to work for Alltel and eventually Verizon Wireless while earning a master's in business administration with a focus in marketing from the University of Arkansas. Since February 2016, he has been marketing director for BSR, a publicly traded real estate investment trust with dozens of properties in five states. Through it all, the racing bug never left.
Spencer's father, Collins Andrews III, graduated from college as a mechanical engineer, later working as a metallurgist in the aluminum industry. He wound up with financial technology pioneer Systematics in Little Rock and later became an Alltel executive.
In 2016, Collins was asked to come out of retirement and work with startup financial technology companies as executive in residence at the Venture Center in Little Rock.
Last year, Collins, Spencer and Spencer's brother in Fayetteville found themselves with extra time on their hands due to the pandemic. They started talking about racing. Collins says it was a time to "rethink your priorities and focus on the things you enjoy in life."
Here's how the Andrews Autosport website explains it: "For the Andrews family, one common thread has always been cars and racing. The father, Collins Andrews III, was a semi-retired hot-rodder from the '60s. The first-born, Collins Andrews IV, a Gen-Xer from the '80s with an affinity for sporty imports (a preference that also manifested itself with his choice of spouse). And finally, the youngest son, Spencer Andrews, whose no-holds-barred approach to cars and motorsports led him all the way to an eight-year career working in NASCAR with top teams and drivers.
"With direction from their sometimes very vocal spouses, the Andrews boys pooled their resources and came up with a plan. In August 2020, Andrews Autosport hit the track. Andrews Autosport is an IMCA dirt-modified race team competing in select events across the United States."
I'm having lunch with the elder Collins and Spencer, and they stress the rich motorsports culture of Arkansas, which they feel has never received the recognition it deserves. They note that former NASCAR star Mark Martin of Batesville continues to have a huge following across the country and has helped familiarize motorsports enthusiasts with dirt racing in Arkansas.
When Andrews Autosport was created, Spencer's wife, a doctor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, told him: "Do something good with this."
The Arkansas Department of Health's Vaccinate Arkansas program agreed to help sponsor a car with the words Vaccinate Arkansas, the hashtage #VaxAR and the website healthy.arkansas.gov painted on the vehicle. The Andrews family teamed up with driver Peyton Taylor, who has a large following in this part of the country. Taylor also hails from Batesville, where his uncle built Martin's first car.
A news conference was held in downtown Little Rock to unveil the Vaccinate Arkansas car. Taylor has since visited vaccination clinics in Little Rock and Batesville.
Spencer notes that track owners are vaccinated and so are many of the drivers. The Andrews family and Health Department officials believe that motorsports allows them to reach a segment of the Arkansas population that's largely unvaccinated.
"We're doing vaccine drives at tracks," Spencer says. "We're adding to the purse for vaccinated drivers. This is much bigger than just our program."
Earlier this fall, Andrews Autosport invited people to send in the names of Arkansas health-care workers who deserved special recognition. The names were placed on the car for the Race for Hope 71 at Batesville Motor Speedway.
Last month, Taylor and Andrews Autosport finished second in the most lucrative IMCA stock-car race in history. It's not a series the Andrews family typically races in, but the company partnered with Arkansas-based Cadillac Chassis and AcreTrader to build a second car. There were 100 IMCA stock cars that showed up at Batesville Motor Speedway to compete for 30 starting spots in the feature race.
"A mechanical failure late on the first qualifying night, a Wednesday, cost us a third-row starting spot for the main event," Spencer says. "Terrible draws buried Peyton in the remaining two qualifiers, but a heroic drive from 27th to fifth in the final qualifier was enough to punch our ticket to start 15th in the Saturday night main event.
"On championship night, Peyton drove from 15th to third in the first three laps, using a high line that few other drivers could master. The No. 1 AcreTrader-Cadillac Chassis car battled on that high side for most of the 71-lap race, passing for the lead four times and holding the top spot convincingly on laps 17-20 and 36-40."
On the final restart with two laps to go, Taylor had a shot at the win.
"We wanted that top spot so badly, and if the chips had fallen a little differently, we could have won it," Spencer says. "It was still the biggest night in the history of our team. No other Arkansan finished in the top 15, and we walked away with a $15,000 payday, the largest ever for Andrews Autosport."
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.