Nancy Sparks is one of a select group of 49 dealer nominees from across the country who will be honored at the 107th annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 3, 2024.
The TIME Dealer of the Year award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted honors. The award recognizes the nation’s most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service. Sparks was chosen to represent the Kentucky Automobile Dealers Association in the national competition – one of only 49 auto dealers nominated for the 55th annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
“The greatest impact of my retail automotive career has been making a difference in the daily lives of my employees,” nominee Sparks said. “Getting to know them as family, giving them the financial security to raise their children and to enjoy life, and helping them grow in their careers has been very rewarding.”
Sparks, who studied early childhood education at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio, was a stay-at-home mom and community volunteer when her husband, Patrick DeCastro, the founder of Kerry Automotive, died suddenly.
“My automotive career began on Christmas Eve in 2013, the day Pat passed away of complications following a surgical procedure,” she said. “I was completely overwhelmed at the prospect of running 10 stores with 450 employees but decided that I owed it to our loyal, hardworking, and dedicated associates to do my best to keep the company viable and moving forward.”
Sparks went to work attending meetings, getting to know every employee, understanding each job function, and learning the auto industry from the ground up. She listened to feedback, identified the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and came up with ways to overcome obstacles.
“I faced many challenges but surrounded myself with smart, loyal, and honest advisors from within the team who helped me navigate this new world,” she said. “I was determined to keep my late husband's legacy alive, our employees' jobs secure, and adapt to the ever-changing car business.”
Today, Sparks continues to oversee Kerry Automotive’s 10 stores in Kentucky and Ohio, representing Buick, Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen. Her current husband, daughter, son and nephew are all part of her team at the dealership group.
“In the past 10 years, every store has exceeded all expectations,” she said. “We have solidified our relationships with manufacturers and have established ourselves as a force to be reckoned with in the retail automotive industry.”
Sparks is a champion of the Kentucky Automobile Dealers Association, where she is currently on the executive committee and has served as board chair. “The association provided me with invaluable insights from fellow dealers who share similar goals,” she said. “I have also had the privilege of representing Kentucky auto dealers in Washington, D.C., lobbying lawmakers on issues that affect our industry and business.”
The bulk of her philanthropic giving and volunteer activities focus on helping critically ill children, a cause very close to her heart.
“In March of 2016, my 15-month-old niece had an emergency heart transplant,” Sparks said. “I was inspired by the wonderful care she received and now try to make a difference for other children.”
To that end, she supports Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati, JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and the American Red Cross.
“For Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, my contribution to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit has provided funding to enhance the level of care,” she said. “In addition, I have endowed money for the hospital’s Heart and Mind Wellbeing Center, the first program of its kind in the nation.”
The Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House is the largest in its network and provides housing for families whose children are undergoing treatment at an area hospital. Sparks supports the group’s Taste of Hope initiative, which supplies meals to families staying in their facility so parents can completely focus on their child’s care.
“I provide one-third of the annual budget for the group’s Taste of Hope kitchen,” she said. “Our employees also volunteer there one night each month, helping to prepare over 250 meals for sick children and their families.”
Sparks added, “In the past seven years, I have donated approximately $3 million dollars to many charities and institutions that benefit the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Dealers are nominated by the executives of state and metro dealer associations around the country. A panel of faculty members from the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at the University of Michigan will select one finalist from each of the four NADA regions and one national Dealer of the Year. Three finalists will receive $5,000 for their favorite charities and the winner will receive $10,000 to give to charity, donated by Ally.
In its 13th year as exclusive sponsor, Ally also will recognize dealer nominees and their community efforts by contributing $1,000 to each nominee’s 501(c)3 charity of choice. Nominees will be recognized on AllyDealerHeroes.com, which highlights the philanthropic contributions and achievements of TIME Dealer of the Year nominees.
“At TIME, we are proud to uphold the decades-long tradition of honoring automotive dealers who make a positive impact and show dedication to their communities through our TIME Dealer of the Year award,” said TIME CEO Jessica Sibley. “We are excited to keep this tradition of applauding these community contributions together with our partners at Ally.”
Doug Timmerman, president of dealer financial services, Ally, said, “Auto dealers nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to not only the industry but to their respective communities through volunteerism, sponsorships, and supporting charitable causes, no matter the market climate. Whether their clients are purchasing a first car or upgrading for a growing family, these selected dealers have successfully extended their relationships beyond the showroom and have been steadfast in driving their communities forward.”
Sparks was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Jason Wilson, president of the Kentucky Automobile Dealers Association. She and her husband Timothy have five children.