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DARLINGTON, S.C. - It's been over a year since Pro Stock Chevy Cavalier driver Tom Hammonds made his last quarter-mile pass in NHRA competition at the 2003 Mac Tool Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. In addition to challenging for a starting spot in one of the toughest categories in all of motorsports, the 37-year-old Hammonds' attention was directed to the completion of final coursework in the GM Minority Dealer Development program and the subsequent acquisition of his own GM auto dealership. On Friday, May 21, at 12:00 p.m., the former NBA and ACC college basketball standout will realize his lifelong dream with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Tom Hammonds Chevrolet in Darlington, S.C. The recently opened facility will also host a grand opening celebration on Saturday, May 22, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"I'm so excited," exclaimed Hammonds. "I'm like a kid in a candy store. The first week we were here I didn't get much sleep because all I wanted to do was spend time at the dealership. When business hours were over I kept driving around the lot, looking at all those great cars, and to be honest, the whole situation's been a lot of fun. With Chevrolet strengthening its lineup with 10 new products in the next 18 months, I couldn't have picked a better time to open Tom Hammonds Chevrolet.

"Owning a car dealership is something I've always wanted. I thank God for being in a position to be able to take advantage of this opportunity - this is a dream come true. And to have a Chevrolet franchise, that's just icing on the cake. I'm not placing myself on a pedestal just because my name's on the store. If we're in a rush and a car needs to be cleaned, I'll wash it. Our employees know I'm in the trenches with them and that I always will be."

In 1972, General Motors became the first automobile manufacturer to institute a structured minority dealer development program. The program was redesigned in 1999, and now in its 32nd year, the GM Minority Dealer Development program has set the industry standard in training and placing qualified applicants into dealership-owning opportunities. The program has resulted in over 400 minority-owned dealerships, more than five percent of GM's total in the United States.

"The purpose of the program is to be an advocate for diversity and profitable, minority-owned dealerships," explained Robert Romero, general director of minority dealer development at GM. "What we do is not only work with the candidates, but look for opportunities to place those candidates in good, viable locations that we think will have a positive economic impact in the community they participate in.

"We recruit individuals, whether they have car experience or not, who can lead, who can manage a business and who have a passion for the car industry. We're looking for candidates with an entrepreneurial spirit to enter the program. Tom Hammonds is the perfect example of the kind of individual we're looking for, and we know his dealership will be a success."

Hammonds entered the GM Minority Dealer Development program in 1997. But it wasn't until his retirement from the NBA that the former Chevy Cavalier NHRA Pro Stock competitor was able to focus more attention on his lifelong aspirations to own a GM dealership.

"The GM Minority Dealer Development program covers the entire ins and outs of running a dealership," explained Hammonds. "From the detail shop, to the parts department, to the service department, to the used and new cars, to the accounting office, every aspect of running a dealership is covered. That's one thing about it, GM has made a substantial investment in our training and making sure we're doing things the right way. It was an outstanding learning experience."

There are a variety of ways to apply for the Minority Dealer Development program, and the initial qualifications are essentially identical, but once the applicant passes an extensive background check, a structured telephone interview is conducted. The candidate is then scheduled for a three-day assessment process focusing on leadership and overall management skills. After the assessment team has an opportunity to review the data, it is forwarded to another review committee at GM. A training dealer is then assigned and the individual is enrolled in the National Automobile Dealers Association in McLean, Va. Hammonds was partnered with Vince Whibbs Pontiac-GMC in Pensacola, Fla.

The candidate must complete six different modules, or applied-skills applications, before graduation from the NADA Academy, and each candidate is also required to attend classroom instruction for one week every other month. After a week of course work at the NADA Academy, the candidate returns to his/her training dealership for a six-week period for hands-on application of the course instruction just reviewed. After those six weeks are up, it's back to the Academy for round two of training, and on until the course is completed. The entire training process at the NADA Academy takes approximately one year.

After completion of NADA Academy course work, the candidate is sent back through the dealer expertise, or skills assessment, to demonstrate what kind of dealership operational-skills sets that they have acquired. If they do well in the final assessment they are then classified as a "ready-now" candidate. If they are judged to be lacking in certain areas, the candidate is advised to seek additional instruction on skills where they might be deficient before retaking the final assessment.

Hammonds achieved "ready-now" status at the end of June 2003. Three weeks later he began interviewing with GM managers in the different regions where he hoped to acquire his dealership, with the Southeast region being his No. 1 choice. At the end of 2003, a Chevrolet dealership with tremendous potential became available in Darlington, S.C., and the final steps were taken to complete the store's purchase.

"You think about doing something and doing something, and you work hard to get it," said Hammonds. "But until you meet your goals, they always seem to be so far away. I can say with confidence and certainty that the hard work and sacrifice was all well worth it."

In running his new Chevy dealership, Hammonds will now strive to duplicate the professionalism he exemplified at the racetrack and on the basketball court.

"As far as trying to create a winning, professional program, we'll run the dealership very similar to the way we ran the race team," said Hammonds. "At the dragstrip we always made every effort to make sure that our equipment was immaculate and our pit area was clean and organized, and now our store looks like that. Our customers feel very at home when they walk through the doors at Tom Hammonds Chevrolet. I had a reputation for being a professional at the racetrack as far as my appearance, the way I worked with my sponsors and the way I handled my crew, and it's the same approach we'll take with the dealership.

"A lot of people don't realize the number of steps a dealership goes through when it sells a single automobile. It's really a well-organized, efficient process, almost like a choreographed dance, and it happens every time with each individual car you sell. Getting that done depends on your people, your processes and your procedures. Buying a car should be a happy, exciting moment for the customer and that's how it will be at Tom Hammonds Chevrolet."

Although Hammonds no longer owns the two Chevy Cavaliers he competed with on the NHRA Pro Stock circuit, he still has a passion for high-performance cars and maintains the self-motivation that has contributed to his lifelong success. He's hoping that his new Chevrolet facility in Darlington is just the first step in a long line of Tom Hammonds dealerships throughout the southeastern United States.

"Drag racing is in my blood and has been since I was very young," said Hammonds. "I have a 1970 Chevy Camaro, and although it's a street car, I do race it on the weekends. It has a 565 cubic-inch big-block built by Gene Fulton with two stages of nitrous oxide. It's right at 1,300 horsepower, it's street legal and it'll run the quarter in about 7.40 seconds at about 175 mph.

"I'd love to come back and compete in NHRA Pro Stock, and I would enjoy the opportunity to come back with a competitive team, but I'm not sure I could return as an owner/driver. Right now, my focus is on Tom Hammonds Chevrolet. After we get this opportunity up and running and I feel comfortable with the progress of this store, we'll start looking at other opportunities."

You can find more information on the GM Minority Dealer Development program at www.gm.com/automotive/dealers/minoritydealers.
 
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