Bill Stanley is generally known two ways: as a state legislator and as an attorney.
Here are two other things about the Republican state senator from Franklin County that aren’t as well-known: He’s now a podcaster and a race car owner.
Since last year, he and former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler of Emporia have joined together to field the Sadler/Stanley Racing team, which has brought NASCAR legend Bobby Labonte out of retirement to run short tracks in Virginia and the Carolinas.
They’ve also teamed up for a weekly podcast – “Leaning Right and Turning Left With Sadler and the Senator” – that is now racking up about 10,000 downloads per episode.
In Stanley’s world, all these things are connected – and also have led to Sadler now being a candidate for the Republican nomination for a state Senate seat in Southside.
For those who don’t know Stanley, here’s the essential thing to know: Whatever you think of his politics (and opinions obviously vary there), he’s a colorful, entertaining fellow.
Years ago, he represented some members of a traveling band who were accused of mooning motorists on Interstate 81. In court, he asked a witness if they could identify which set of cheeks they saw through the back window. The judge stopped him and informed Stanley that he had no intention of letting the defendants drop their drawers in court. I don’t know if Stanley would have actually called on the defendants to do so – but the judge apparently knew that Stanley was quite capable of making that request. (His clients were acquitted.)
So when I heard that Stanley was now doing a podcast, I knew that listeners could be assured of one thing: It would be entertaining, perhaps even entertaining enough that left-of-center listeners might overlook the “leaning right” part.
How far right does Stanley lean? He’s pushed a constitutional amendment to ban school disparity in Virginia (it was defeated) and sponsored legislation to make it easier to build solar-powered schools (that passed), neither of those measures typically associated with conservatives. On the other hand, he’s argued against Medicaid expansion and new restrictions on gun ownership. After redistricting in 2011, Stanley moved into a new district to avoid being paired with a fellow Republican. The Roanoke Times did a story on whether he really lived where he said he lived. Stanley joked to the reporter that no one should come snooping around his home “unless they want to get a face full of my Glock.” When the paper published that quote, Stanley promptly circulated it in his district. In many parts of the state, that quote would be controversial, even incendiary. In Franklin County, it’s considered a vote-getter.
Stanley and Sadler go back a long way but it was the annual legislative basketball game that cemented their friendship. “The Senate is a little vertically challenged, so we have to bring in ringers,” Stanley said. Two of those were the Sadler brothers, Hermie and Elliott, both former NASCAR drivers. Stanley often provided color commentary at the games along with a Democrat – sometimes Del. Lamont Bagby of Richmond, other times then-Del. Hala Ayala of Prince William County. “It was hilarious,” Stanley said. “They could hear what we were saying about them on the court.” When Hermie Sadler came into the game, “I said on the loudspeaker that the Senate was running a short defense. Hermie ran by, smacked the table, said, ‘You’re not any bigger than me,’ then ran off.”
Fast forward a few years and Stanley and Sadler were commiserating over the state of things in Virginia. Stanley’s district encompassed Danville (his new district won’t). Even though Danville has embraced a casino, Stanley has not. “I never voted for casino gambling in Virginia,” he said. “I argued against it with [Danville Del.] Danny Marshall in a chamber meeting and I think the audience was horrified that we had such different positions.”
Meanwhile, Sadler – who now owns a truck stop in Emporia – was complaining that casinos wanted the state to get rid of so-called “skill games,” those electronic games you see popping up in convenience stores. “It was really ticking us off,” Stanley said. “I decided even though I’m against gambling, I was for fairness and Hermie decided he was going to stand up for the little guy. We sat there and talked about it over a couple of drinks.” By the end of the evening, they decided that Sadler would sue and Stanley would represent him. “We knew we were on the side of the angels,” Stanley said. “We just didn’t know how successful we would wind up being.” Whether Stanley and Sadler are really on the side of the angels might be a matter of debate – the casinos certainly don’t think so – and their success may be only temporary. For now, though, the skill games remain in operation, pending a trial sometime this spring in Greensville County.
Stanley and Sadler talk a lot – with each other, that is. “When we talk on the phone we think we’re the funniest people on the planet,” Stanley said. “Our wives don’t agree, but we do.” At least one other person did agree, though. One of Sadler’s friends heard them and, as Stanley remembers it, said, “You guys are hilarious, You should do a podcast.” That friend was none other than former pro wrestler Jeff Jarrett, who co-owns a podcast company, Podcast Heat. That company produces 20 podcasts, including ones by actress Melissa Joan Hart (“Sabrina The Teenage Witch,”) “redneck comedians” Trae Crowder and Corey Ryan Forrester, and 14 wrestling-related shows.
In early 2022, the Sadler-Stanley duo launched both a podcast and a racing team. “I wanted to be in racing; he wanted the podcast,” Stanley said. “The funny thing is I run the podcast and he runs the racing.”
One sponsor signed up for both ventures: Pace-O-Matic, a skill games company. So yes, a lot of these things are related.
On the racing side, Sadler/Stanley Racing entered 13 races last year, with Jonathan Brown as its primary driver. When racing returned to the famed North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina after 12 years (or maybe 26, depending on how you count a brief reopening in 2010), the Sadler/Stanley team entered two cars. Driving the other car was Ryan Newman, whose name is often preceded by “NASCAR legend.” Translation for those who aren’t racing fans: This is kind of a big deal.
“We put Ryan Newman in the car to run at North Wilkesboro and won the first race back,” Stanley said. “Now, because of Hermie, we’ve got Bobby Labonte driving our car and Ryan Newman running almost the whole season.” Translation: This really is a big deal.
These short tracks in Virginia and the Carolinas are where racing began, before it became big business, so Stanley sees this as reclaiming the sport’s roots. “These are NASCAR legends driving around Franklin County or around Radford at the Motor Mile [Speedway],” Stanley said. “You never get the racing out of you.” This year, the team will have four cars; they may race three, with a fourth in reserve because you’ve got to have a back-up in case of wrecks.
For Stanley, this is therapeutic. “With the racing, I bought an RV for my family,” he said. “Every weekend I used to come home and work. Now every weekend we get in the RV and drive to the track and spend the whole weekend at the track. It has been transformational for me personally.”
And now, at last, we come to the business of the podcast. Larry the Cable Guy and former NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip have taped introductions. Lots of other NASCAR figures have made appearances: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Petty, Kenny Wallace, Michael Waltrip. “Hermie’s got a Rolodex and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet,” Stanley said.
Some politicians have appeared, too: former Gov. George Allen, Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, state Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond.
When I asked Stanley for an interview about his podcast, he turned the tables on me – and I wound up on the podcast, with Stanley interviewing me. (You can find me on the Feb. 2 episode, entitled “Stop The Presses!” I mostly talk about the decline of print media and the rise of online news sites.)
Stanley takes this seriously. He squeezed in that taping between a meeting of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee (where the bill he was presenting was killed by the Democratic majority, “with love” according to one Democratic senator) and a night full of receptions and dinners that legislators are expected to attend. The next night, Stanley stayed up late to do the editing.
I’ve done lots of interviews, particularly in promoting Cardinal, but never before have I been interviewed by a politician, so that was definitely a role reversal. You can listen to the show and judge for yourself, but the vibe I picked up is that of a bunch of guys sitting around a bar, with the conversation sometimes jumping from topic to topic whenever someone has an idea.
“When the podcast started, they wanted an outline,” Stanley said. “If he [Hermie] and I write stuff down, it’s all convoluted. If we just talk, it works.”
And talk they do. Stanley aims for the podcasts to be 90 minutes – no 30-second sound bites for these guys – but some episodes run three hours or more. “We just hit that button,” Stanley said. “Usually it’s funny and informative.” (I don’t know how funny I was but I do hope I was informative about the changing media landscape.) For some episodes, Stanley and Sadler are joined by South Hill businessman and town council member Shep Moss. “We brought Shep on because Shep’s a smartass,” Stanley said. (I can vouch for this, although Moss also asked me a very insightful question about what makes a good journalist. My short answer: Curiosity.)
Stanley says the podcast is responsible for Sadler’s decision to enter politics – he’s currently seeking the Republican nomination for an open state Senate seat in a district that stretches across the state’s southern border from part of Portsmouth to Brunswick County. That puts him into a nomination contest with Del. Emily Brewer of Suffolk. “Through the episodes, I teased him he should run – and now he’s running,” Stanley said. “You actually see the evolution of Hermie Sadler, business guy. It’s all on tape – it’s from a slug to a butterfly right there on our podcasting.”
There’s some money to be made from this; Podcast Heat sells advertising and some of that flows down to the hosts, but don’t count on either of these guys to quit their day jobs. They do get some fan mail, from as far away as Nevada. The podcast is available on all the usual platforms (Apple, Audible, Spotify, YouTube and so forth), and the digital world knows no bounds.
I was more curious about how Stanley finds the time for all this. I’m counting four different jobs here: lawyer, legislator, podcaster, racing team owner. I only have one and I sometimes have trouble keeping up with that. Over the years, as a journalist, I’ve asked Stanley many difficult and awkward questions. (He was much kinder in interviewing me.) This might have been the only one he’s had trouble answering.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s a question I’ve never heard before. A shark dies when it stops swimming. Personally, my dad died at 51. When I was 20, I thought I’d never get past 50 so I’ve never known what I could get done after 51.” He’s now 55 and finding out every day.