Tommy Climer: the son also rises
Updated: Nov 28, 2020
When your father is christened the “King” of Middle Tennessee racing, the son inherits a daunting legacy. Tommy Climer has upheld it.
Tommy, son of irrepressible James “King” Climer, has successfully carried on the family’s rich racing tradition over the past three decades. He has won seven championships at three tracks – four at Fairgrounds Speedway, two at Highland Rim and one at Carthage/Riverview – and collected an estimated 125 victories.
During Fairgrounds Speedway’s upcoming All-American 400 festivities, Tommy will join his famous father in the track’s Hall of Fame.
“ It’s an honor to join all the great people who are in there, including my dad,” Tommy says. “They are the best of the best, and I’m proud to be included.”
Tommy, 56, is scheduled to soon undergo a kidney transplant – more on that in a minute.
Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame induction is an honor well earned. Tommy’s father probably won more races at more tracks than any driver in the state’s racing history – 55 victories in one season alone -- and his son inherited those high-speed genes.
But it took him awhile to get rolling.
“ My parents took me to the track when I was eight months old, but I didn’t start driving until I was 27,” Tommy says. “The reason why is because I was a member of my dad’s pit crew, and he didn’t want to lose me.”
He adds with a laugh: “I told him the real reason why he didn’t want to race was because he was afraid I’d take his crown.”
Finally Tommy got his chance when his dad let him run a heat race at Highland Rim. He remembers it well:
“I was out front, with Ronnie Baucom running second. Ronnie was letting me lead, planning to pass me on the last lap. When he tried to get around me, I put him in the grass. After it was over, he came over and wanted to know why I took him out, since it was just a heat race. I said I didn’t care what it was – I wanted that checked flag.”
Diaper-clad Tommy was too young to remember the first race he attended, but he has seen the flickering, faded old video that was shot that day:
“They were racing at the Rim, and my dad spun out and knocked down a telephone pole,” he says. “They called him the ‘pole-climber.”
Tommy recalls another early memory that was considerably more grim: “A friend of daddy’s was killed in a figure-8 race.”
Did the incident deter his determination to race?
“ No, you can’t think about things like that,” Tommy says. “If you’re scared, you can’t race. When you get in that car and buckle up, you are completely focused on driving. Nothing else. I was never afraid in a race car.”
One of the highlights of Tommy’s career came at Indianapolis Raceway Park one summer when he won the pole for a super truck race, then – with sister Lori as his crew chief – won the race.
After driving Late Models at the Rim for car owner Big Daddy Bradley, Tommy switched to Limited Late Models at the Fairgrounds. In 1994 he won Rookie of the Year and the next season he captured his first championship.
Tommy, who for 25 years has owned and operated James C. Climer Bonding in his hometown of Murfreesboro, is a divorced father of two, with four grandkids.
His daughter Britney raced at Riverview and, says Tommy, “had a lot talent” until she became a mom and hung up her helmet.
Tommy’s granddaughter, Victoria Cheyenne “Shi” Climer, 12 won a Dixie Shootout quarter-midget championship before opting to play basketball in middle school.
The youngster to keep an eye on, Tommy says, is Boston Oliver, 12, the son of his sister.
“He started racing Legends cars this year,” says a proud “Uncle Tommy.” “He’s going to be really good if he sticks with it.”
After almost three decades of battling around roaring racetracks, Tommy’s toughest fight is now waged in a hushed, antiseptic medical clinic where machines beep softly and IVs drip.
That’s where he undergoes weekly dialysis treatments for a kidney ailment that will require an eventual transplant.
He has a donor – his brother-in-law Joey Jones – and is waiting for a few additional test and, then, hopefully, for doctors to schedule the operation.
While he waits, he has time to reminisce.
“ I don’t know that I’d change much if I could,” he says. “Like Daddy, I’d have liked to got a shot at running NASCAR, but I never had the time or the money. My dad always said he could have raced on that level, and I have no doubt that he could have – he used to beat Darrell Waltrip at the Fairgrounds. But he never got a shot, and I didn’t either.”
“ Daddy was gone a lot when I was growing up. When he wasn’t off racing somewhere, he was working hard to support his family. He always brought home the groceries. He was a good dad; he taught me boxing. I wish we’d spent more time together. Looking back, I feel the same about my family. I missed doing a lot of things with them.”
Tommy is not ready to speak of his racing career in the past tense. He says there’s a chance he might drive again, depending on his health situation.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he says. “I’d like to race some more if I’m able. If I can’t, it’ll be fun to watch the kids. I think Boston has real potential, and one of the younger grandkids is already flying around the driveway on his Big Wheel.”
Tommy chuckles at the image.
It appears Climers will be racing for a long time to come.