Tim Brewer will never forget April 4 of this year, when he received one of the most important and humbling texts he ever has.
“The text said, ‘Hey, Brewer, we’d like you to be on Sirius (NASCAR) Radio at 4:15 this afternoon, we want to talk about the nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” Brewer told NASCAR.com. “My question was, ‘Well, who are we going to talk about?’ And they said, ‘Brewer, you!’”
He still was a bit mystified until less than five minutes before he was about to go on-air. He received a call from the NASCAR Hall of Fame, informing him that he was one of 15 former NASCAR greats who were nominated for the Hall’s Class of 2023.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather because I never expected it, never, not in my lifetime,” Brewer said. “But since then, I mean, the phones and texts, you would not believe the list I have of people who’ve reached out to me.”
Brewer will find out if he is one of the newest members of the Hall when the voting panel convenes Wednesday to make its final selections.
If Brewer is fortunate to be a first-ballot pick — one of four first-time nominees who are up for selection — it will cap off a career as one of the most successful crew chiefs in NASCAR Cup Series competition, who then became popular as a broadcaster with his “cut-away car” from his “Tech Garage” from 2007-14 on ESPN.
Not in a bragging way, but Brewer takes as much pride with what he did on TV as he did as a crew chief (53 wins and two Cup championships).
“There ain’t no driver, no owner, no other crew chief that’s got an Emmy except me,” he said with a smile.
Oh yes, and Brewer — who almost always refers to himself in the third-person as simply “Brewer” — is also one of the best storytellers in the business, with some great recollections of NASCAR greats, including Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr., Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough and countless more.
Here are a few of his favorite stories, both humorous and poignant:
* Bill France Jr.: “We were in a Hilton hotel in Elmira, New York, in the bar, and Bill said he’d buy me a drink and I said I’d buy him one. Then he said to me, ‘OK, here we go. Tell me how screwed up NASCAR is.’ I said, ‘You ain’t got that much time and they ain’t got enough liquor.’”
But all kidding aside, France was one of the individuals Brewer respected most in the business: “How he came up with all the right decisions, I have no clue. But I don’t recall him making a bad one. … He was all-time one of the best.”
* Dale Earnhardt: “Earnhardt and me are sitting in the front row at a driver’s meeting in Atlanta, cutting up as usual. And here comes (golfing great) Arnold Palmer, he’s going to start the race. After the meeting, Mr. Palmer comes down to talk to Earnhardt, and I’m thinking that’s pretty cool. When they had a break, I said, ‘Mr. Palmer, I’ve been watching your golf career ever since I can remember. Man, you’re awesome.’ He said, ‘Tim Brewer, I’ve seen a lot of your race cars win a lot of races.’ And I went, ‘Arnold Palmer knows who the hell Tim Brewer is?’ That was impressive to me.”
* “The four easiest weeks I’ve ever had in my life were in 1981 when we sat on the pole for four weeks in a row with Darrell Waltrip at Martinsville, North Wilkesboro, Charlotte and Rockingham and we won (all) four races. Then we came back again in 1992 with Bill Elliott, when he won four in a row. Winning four in a row twice, go back and do your research and you’ll find out how many guys have done that.”
* “The old guys, they were men, they were tough,” Brewer said. “I saw Harry Gant get out of the car after winning the Southern 500 at Darlington and some guy said, ‘Hey, Harry, great win. What are you gonna do tomorrow?’ Harry said, ‘Well, I’m gonna go put a roof on the chicken house.’ Or when I’d call Cale (Yarborough), his daughter would say he’s out putting up fence posts, digging them by hand with a fence-post puller, not an auger, and he did that from early in the morning until 6 p.m. at night, all by himself.”
Brewer spent nearly 50 years in racing, starting as a 14-year-old at legendary Bowman Gray Stadium, just a few miles from his Winston-Salem, North Carolina, home.
His first big break came at the age of 18 when he was tabbed to be crew chief by a then relatively unknown driver who also grew up in the Winston-Salem area by the name of Richard Childress. Brewer would remain with Childress for five years before the latter ultimately climbed out of a race car and became a full-time team owner.
Brewer served as a crew chief for several eventual members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, including Childress, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Terry and Bobby Labonte, Davey Allison and Bill Elliott — as well as Tim Richmond, Neil Bonnett, Geoffrey Bodine, John Andretti, Sterling Marlin, Steve Grissom, Mike Wallace, Kevin Lepage, Johnny Sauter and Jimmy Spencer.
His greatest success came while shepherding Yarborough and Waltrip for team owner Junior Johnson, yet another Hall of Famer and for whom Brewer would ultimately work 12 years for from atop the pit box.
In 1978, Yarborough won 10 times in 30 starts to capture one of his three Cup championships. (He’d also win 13 more races in three of the next four seasons with Brewer as crew chief.)
In 1981, Brewer shifted to Darrell Waltrip’s team and led him to 12 wins and one of his three Cup championships, as well.
All told, Brewer commanded teams that won 53 races (in 708 Cup starts), plus 188 top-five and 308 top-10 finishes, paired with 55 poles.
Brewer has done and seen a lot, from under the hood to atop the pit box to in front of the TV camera. But there’s one constant that has marked his entire time in NASCAR:
“Back in the day, it was fun,” he said. “From the time you’d get out of bed, if you was on my crew, you’d put them little old feet on the floor till the time you went to bed that evening, we always had something going on, always. And I just cherished the camaraderie that we went through.”
Brewer had such a fulfilling career he admits to just one regret.
“If I could go back and change one thing in my racing background,” he said, “I wouldn’t have left Junior Johnson in 1981.”
It’s not a surprising regret: From 1978-81, Brewer won 32 combined races and championships with Yarborough (1978) and Waltrip (1981), with neither driver finishing lower than fourth in that span.
Brewer left to join Yarborough with the M.C. Anderson team in 1982, then helped form Blue Max Racing with Raymond Beadle and driver Tim Richmond in 1983-84 before returning to Johnson’s team from 1985-92.
Brewer is known for his good nature and sense of humor, but he admits the last 18 months have not been easy on him and his family. His longtime business partner and best friend, Nelson Crozier, died one day after Christmas 2020, following a six-year battle with cancer.
While he humbly doesn’t like to talk about it, Brewer was Crozier’s primary caregiver for that entire time, including having Crozier live with Brewer and his wife, Susan, for the last 3 ½ years of his life so they could take care of him.
Then Brewer’s brother, Glenn, lost his wife to COVID-19, while Glenn’s son and Tim’s nephew, Robby, lost his wife, as well.
“I’ve lost several family members, lost a lot of good friends,” Brewer said. “I’ve been going to a lot of funerals. It hasn’t been too good.
“I’ve been taking care of a lot of people. If you’re my friend, you’re my friend, I’ll do anything in the world for you.”
But even with all the tragedy and sadness he has gone through since 2020, Brewer remains thankful.
At the top of the list is his wife, Susan. They’ve been married 43 years and together 48 years.
Then there is their only child, Scott, who is the car chief for Corey LaJoie in the Cup Series, daughter-in-law Samantha and 8-year-old granddaughter Sloan Marie Brewer. Or as her grandpa likes to good-naturedly call her, “the heir to the throne.”
Brewer, who turned 67 on Feb. 4 (one day before Waltrip’s birthday, although the latter is eight years older), claims he’s semi-retired these days. He plays a lot of golf, travels the country with Susan in their new motorcoach and recently purchased an oceanfront summer home in South Carolina to go along with their longtime regular residence near Statesville, North Carolina.
“You asked me what is Tim Brewer doing these days?” he said. “Well, Tim Brewer’s living a great life and sharing time with Susan that he didn’t never do before. I was always working on race cars, or on an airplane going to a test or the wind tunnel, or going to wring some money out of somebody so we can have better race cars.
“These days, I stand on my deck or raise the blinds in my bedroom and see the Atlantic Ocean. It don’t get better than that. I’m at the point where I’m now 67 years old. When I was 35, I thought, ‘Well, if you’re 40, somebody needs to take you out and shoot you.’ I don’t think that anymore.
“Good moments, bad moments, you know, I’ve had a lot of them. But as long as I can see the ocean and walk in the sand with Susan and carry my dogs (shelties) or go ride in my golf cart, that’s what I do.”
The Tim Brewer File:
* Age: 67
* Hometown: Winston-Salem, N.C.
* Wife: Married 43 years to Susan
* Children: Son Scott (42)
NASCAR Cup crew chief career highlights: 708 races, 53 wins, 188 top-five and 308 top-10 finishes. Also 55 poles. Best season finish: first in 1978 (driver: Cale Yarborough) and first in 1981 (driver: Darrell Waltrip).
Veteran motorsports writer Jerry Bonkowski specializes in writing Where Are They Now? stories for NASCAR.com. Among those he’s done to date include Derrike Cope, Ernie Irvan, Steve Grissom, Johnny Benson, Stacy Compton, Mike Bliss, Doug Richert, Brian Scott, Robby Gordon, Ricky Craven, Terry Labonte, Kenny Wallace, Trevor Bayne, Ken Schrader, Shawna Robinson, Sam Hornish Jr., Bobby Labonte, Greg Biffle, Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya.