At first glance, there appears to be little in common with Dale Ball and Jimmie Johnson.
However, the Johnson City driver has joined the NASCAR Sprint Cup star as a five-time racing champion.
With a 78-point lead over Greeneville’s Ricky Moore, Ball has clinched his third straight and fourth overall Pro Late Model championship at Volunteer Speedway. Add his 1999 Super Late Model championship, and Ball is tied with Morristown driver Vic Hill for five Late Model championships at the 4â„10-mile dirt track in Bulls Gap.
“It means a lot to me,” Ball said. “It means more since I’ve won them where my father won one. I’m 50 years old and I don’t know if I’ll win another. I’ve always said when I get where I’m not competitive I’ll quit. I thought I might quit this year, but you have a year like this one and you keep going.”
With his 1999 title, Ball joined Walter Ball as the track’s only father-son champions. While his father was known for dominating the action, there has been no set formula for Dale’s championship runs. He won the 2009 track championship by winning just one race, while he won six races this season.
“I don’t race for points,” he said. “I just race hard and sometimes it just comes out that way. If you just try hard and do your best, then about half through the year you might start looking at points. But, you race the same all the time.
“One year, I won one race and won the points. This year, I’ve won a lot of races.”
He basically had the points in hand by midseason. He said it’s more fun in one sense when the championship battle goes down to the wire, but it’s also more nerve-racking.
Overall, there is little that gets the veteran driver nervous these days. Like Johnson in the Sprint Cup ranks, he has a cool demeanor behind the wheel.
“I did get rattled in my earlier days,” he said. “Then, you realize there is more to life than just that race car. It takes a lot to get me wound up because I don’t want to do something I later regret. It ain’t worth it to get into all kinds of fights like they did in the older days.”
Racing for Ball is more about the time shared with family and friends. It starts with a crew led by his uncle Robert.
“Robert, he’s in his 80’s and he works on that car through the week,” Ball said. “We can wreck the car on Saturday and it’ll be Monday and he’ll already have the car apart. He’ll give us a list of which parts to go buy. He loves to work on it.”
He’s not alone as Ball’s teammate, Tim Maupin, spends a lot of time at the shop, while others like Jason Smith and Jamie Street help out at the race track.
Of course, some of Ball’s biggest supporters have been his wife, Phyllis, and his three daughters -- Amanda, Dolly and Dotty. It’s more than just moral support, as his wife and twin daughters are often the ones who clean the red clay off the white No. 2 race car after a night of racing.
It’s one reason why sweeping a pair of races in May rank among the most memorable of Ball’s 96 career victories.
“They were born on May 8th and I won on May 9th when they were a year old. Then, I won that same weekend some 25 years later,” he said. “That was a big highlight knowing I won when they were born and I won so many years later.”
Another highlight was winning the Walter Ball Memorial Race in June, a time when his sisters, Linda and Bonnie, were in attendance. While not a family member, Ball also talked about the relationship he shares with car owner Alan Poynter.
“I couldn’t do this without Alan,” Ball said. “We’re like brothers. We’ll fuss all the time, but he lets me do what I want to do with the cars. He let Tim (Maupin) drive the spare car and he’s doing really well. It’s just all fun to me.”
Ball doesn’t have to look far to find his toughest competition. He mentioned a group of drivers in the Johnson City and Jonesborough area which include Jerry Broyles, Tim Byrd, Jensen Ford and his teammate.
“All those guys are real good,” he said. “They’re all good guys to race with, although those guys probably take it more serious than I do. I enjoy it and it’s like going fishing to me.”
His laid-back attitude led Volunteer Speedway track publicist Robert Walden to nickname, the 6-foot-5 Ball “the gentle giant.” However, Walden said one does not want to awaken the giant.
“I don’t take nothing, but I don’t give nothing,” Ball said. “But, I don’t want to wreck anybody and hurt them or me over something stupid. Those people are more than racers. They are my friends. Some people go to extremes and take it too serious. Racing at Bulls Gap, it’s just a good hobby.”
It’s a hobby which has led to Dale Ball be mentioned among the track’s all-time best drivers.