Bobby Hamilton, Sr. was a NASCAR driver and team owner with Bobby Hamilton Racing. He took two Winston Cup wins, the Dura Lube 500 in 1996 and the Talladega 500 in April 2001. Hamilton surcumbed to cancer on January 7, 2007, at his home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
Charles Robert "Bobby" Hamilton, Sr. may be best remembered for two of his Winston Cup wins. His first career victory at the 1996 Dura Lube 500 at Phoenix was the first win for the #43 Petty car since Richard Petty's last win in 1984. He had an emotional win at the Talladega 500 in April 2001 driving the #55 car for owner Andy Petree. The entire 500-mile race was run caution-free and was under intense scrutiny, being the first restrictor plate race run since the death of Dale Earnhardt at the 2001 Daytona 500 two months earlier. A physically and mentally exhausted Hamilton slumped to the ground after exiting his car and was given oxygen from a tank before giving the standard post-race interview while sitting on the ground, leaning against the drivers door.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Hamilton quit school at the age of thirteen and began his racing career at Nashville Speedway USA, now Music City Motorplex, racing on the weekly circuit at the legendary track, where he won the track championship in 1987. Hamilton began to be noticed within the NASCAR ranks after racing in a special 4-car "Superstar Showdown" at Nashville in 1988 against Winston Cup drivers Sterling Marlin, Darrell Waltrip, and Bill Elliott.
Hamilton broke into the Winston Cup ranks in a very unusual way. He was asked to drive one of the "movie cars" for the 1990 film Days of Thunder, qualifying fifth in a movie car at the 1989 AutoWorks 500 in Phoenix, in a car that was not intended to be competitive. The car was the #51 Exxon-sponsored machine, portrayed in the movie as being driven by the character Rowdy Burns.
Years later, Kyle Busch, a current driver for Hendrick Motorsports, which fielded the movie cars, drove a Billy Ballew Motorsports truck in the Craftsman Truck Series (visually echoing Hamilton's car from 1989). It was raced at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2006, in support of Hamilton, who was undergoing cancer treatment. He was identified in the race by the nickname "Rowdy Busch", and won the event.
Hamilton made his NASCAR debut in the Busch Series in 1988 at Charlotte Motor Speedway driving his own #16 Chevrolet, finishing 14th. He ran the next race at North Carolina Speedway, finishing 20th. He drove full-time in 1989 driving the #8 Lighting & Fans Buick for FILMAR Racing. He finished 11th in points and won his only career Busch race at Richmond International Raceway. He also made his Winston Cup debut in a "Days of Thunder" car owned by Hendrick Motorsports. He led five laps but finished 32nd after an engine failure. He matched his 11th place points finish in 1990 with FILMAR, when he was promoted to Winston Cup full-time. He drove the #68 Country Time Lemonade Oldsmobile for Tri-Star Motorsports, posting four top-ten finishes and narrowly defeating Ted Musgrave for Rookie of the Year.
In 1992, he only had two top-tens and dropped to 25th in points. He began 1993 with Tri-Star but was released early in the season. He spent the rest of the season in the Cup and Busch Series, posting two top-tens for Akins-Sutton Motorsports. In 1994, he joined SABCO Racing, driving the #40 Kendall Oil Pontiac Grand Prix. He had just one top-ten finish and left at the end of the season.
For the 1995 season, Hamilton moved to Petty Enterprises to drive the #43 STP Pontiac. He posted ten top-tens and moved up to fourteenth in the final standings. The next season, he finished a career-best 9th in the standings and won his first race at Phoenix. He also formed his own Craftsman Truck Series team and began competing in the series part-time. He won in 1997 at Rockingham, but departed the team after falling to 16th in points.
He signed with Morgan-McClure Motorsports in 1998, and in their eighth race together, he won from the pole at Martinsville Speedway. He ended the season tenth in the points. He had another ten top-ten finishes the following season, but after falling to 30th in points in 2000, he left for Andy Petree Racing, drive the #55 Square D Chevy. He won his final career race at Talladega and finished 18th in the standings. He posted three top-tens in 2002, but suffered a broken shoulder late in the season, causing him to miss several races.
Due to the injury as well as an unstable financial situation at Petree Racing, Hamilton left the Winston Cup Series for the Truck Series driving for his own team, taking the Square D sponsorship with him. Driving the #4 Dodge Ram Hamilton picked up two wins in his first year on the circuit and finished sixth in points. The following season, he picked up four wins and clinched the championship, marking the first time since Alan Kulwicki's championship in 1992 that an owner-driver won a NASCAR championship. He switched to the #04 in 2005 and won an additional two races on his way to another sixth-place points finish.
He drove the #18 Fastenal Dodge for three races in 2006, but was diagnosed with cancer and was unable to continue.
On March 17, 2006, Hamilton announced that he had been diagnosed with neck cancer. He took part in the Craftsman Truck Series race that night, before starting therapy the following Monday.
Hamilton returned to the track for the race at Kentucky Speedway, overseeing his team's operations. Knowing he wouldn't be well enough to drive in 2007, he hired Ken Schrader to drive his #18 Fastenal Dodge for most of the events on the 2007 schedule while Hamilton was to continue his cancer treatment. Hamilton died of neck cancer on January 7, 2007, at his home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee with his family by his side.