I’m the type of person who likes to know a person’s “back story.”
It interests me greatly how couples met, why they chose to attend their alma mater and when they decided to follow their career path.
The more NASCAR fans I meet since I became a professional writer, the more my curiosity gets peaked.
I was raised in a family with a father who adored automobiles and racing. You could say it’s in my blood.
Of course, my mother was never a big fan, at least when I came along, so she used me as an excuse to stay home from my father’s racing events. I was shielded from his passions and grew to disdain them in my childhood.
Once I reached my teens and began dating I realized that the boys who were interested in me were also fascinated by my father’s hobby. This got me to wonder what all the hubbub was all about with race cars.
When my husband joined the family he was instantly smitten with racing. He always enjoyed working on cars but had never been exposed to the world of racing either on television or in real life. He began wrenching for my dad immediately.
Meeting my father’s alter ego – the amateur race car driver who wore collared shirts emblazoned with “Aibel Bros. Racing” (his older brother was the other Aibel) – and who donned a firesuit with dozens of patches on it intrigued me.
When my father spoke with his fellow enthusiasts about cars and racing the twinkle in his eyes dazzled me. He was not merely my father or my mother’s husband; he was a separate entity with talent, interests, and passion that I had not previously witnessed.
Racing soon became something my father, husband and I shared. I was fortunate enough to attend races my father entered in the last years of his active hobby.
My dad is still a car lover and enjoys racing, but has all but stopped attending races as a competitor. Now he’s more comfortable being a spectator.
In the summer of 1990 I asked my father to take me to see the hot movie of the season, “Days of Thunder.” I knew he wouldn’t balk because movies that dealt with racing as a topic were rare.
Although the Daytona 500 was something I knew about as I grew up, I had never sat through an entire broadcast like my dad did religiously.
Still, the NASCAR Winston Cup presented in the movie was loud, spectacular, and fascinating to me. I was once again intrigued by what was always available to me, but what I had never explored.
As fall approached that same year, I moved in for my second year of college in Salem, Va., a suburb of Roanoke.
This time my husband, a student at Virginia Tech, was with me and we decided to check out the popular sport of Winston Cup racing.
It wasn’t until the very last race of the 1990 season that we sat down to watch our first NASCAR race. Listening to pre-race coverage we gleaned that drivers Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt were vying for the championship and Martin was in the lead. Earnhardt, we were told, had to do a lot to ensure his championship.
Being fond of underdogs – we had no previous knowledge of how many championships Earnhardt had won – my husband and I declared we were rooting for Earnhardt.
As history shows, Earnhardt won the race and we found both our new spectator sport and driver.
But, as I said at the beginning, I am always so curious how others found NASCAR.
Unlike any other sport I’ve encountered, NASCAR has a tight-knit, cohesive group of fans. From all walks of life, regions of the USA and backgrounds, fans come together each weekend to watch their heroes take to the track.
Then, during the week they read articles, debate incidents and simply proudly cheer their driver.
Here are some of the stories I received from the folks I canvassed.
Floyd was attracted to racing by time spent at his local track, Flemington Speedway, in Flemington, N.J.
He was taken there as a boy by his father and together they rooted for local racers by the names of Al Tasnady, Frankie Schnieder, and Hoop Schiable.
Once Floyd became a young man his interests included NASCAR. Then he heard of a young racer from Tennessee named Sterling Marlin, who was following in his father’s footsteps.
Floyd initially chose to root for that father, Clifton “Coo Coo” Marlin because, “I thought his name was cool, but Sterling was the first driver that I really followed in NASCAR. And I continued to follow him all through his entire career until he retired from NASCAR.”
Josh had never been exposed to live racing when he caught the bug.
His television was tuned to the race from Talladega in 1996 and that adrenaline rush fueled his passion for the sport.
Josh chose an unlikely driver to follow, Dick Trickle. Josh told me, “I always admired that no matter what, he was there, every weekend, racing.
“And even when he did not qualify in his own machine, he would still stay at the track just in case a driver needed relief. To this day, I honestly believe that if he had better equipment, he could have really done something special.”
Scott grew up in the South and told me, “NASCAR has always been an important part of our lives, just like hunting and fishing.”
Scott was fortunate that his father took him to a race as a boy in 1965 to see the Southern 500 at Darlington. But mostly, Scott recalls listening to the races on the radio in his dad’s 1964 Ford Galaxie.
Like many in his day, Scott rooted for Richard Petty and enjoyed the battles he waged on the tracks with David Pearson.
To share the love of NASCAR with a dad seems to be a common thread. Read on for more interviews.
Mike’s father was also the conduit for exposing him to racing.
The year was 1965 and the event was the Daytona 500. Mike said he was six years old at the time and, “My father, who was a huge Fireball Roberts and Junior Johnson fan, took me to that race. It started a lifelong obsession is the best way to put it.
“Most of the information we got about the drivers back then were through radio and newspaper articles. I lived in Florida and Fireball was the king since, if I recall, he was from Apopka.”
Mike decided to root for David Pearson because the neighbor’s name was Pearson. He figured they must be related. Mike’s racing passions go beyond NASCAR and include ASA, USAC, and IndyCar, all of which he was exposed to by his father.
Jay was around racing in 1956 when his father took him to see friends racing at Rockingham. But he’d have to wait three more years to be exposed to NASCAR.
In 1959 his attention was focused on Florida for the Daytona 500. The race captivated him and made him a lifelong NASCAR fan.
A year later Jay, a Ford man like his father, chose Fred Lorenzen as his driver. Over the years Jay has watched other drivers on the circuit but says, “From 1959 until 2012, I have seen all the drivers in NASCAR, and there is none better than Fred Lorenzen. Dale Earnhardt would have been in Lorenzen’s mirror.”
Buddy recalls, “We were poor so I would use everybody’s shoes as cars and pretend. Then, when family members needed their shoes they just came to me.”
Buddy seemed to have life get in the way of his pursuit of watching NASCAR until he, like me, watched “Days of Thunder” in 1990. And, also like me, he hooked on to Earnhardt as his driver.
Don was nine years old when he watched A.J. Foyt win the Daytona 500 in 1972.
He distinctly remembered Foyt’s name associated with winning in the Indy Series years before, so this impressed Don to no end.
In 1996 Don had an opportunity to meet Foyt at a truck race in Las Vegas. Feeling like a shy boy, Don summoned the courage to ask, “Mr. Foyt, could I have a picture with you?”
Foyt turned around and said “No, but if you ask A.J. I’m sure he’ll say yes.”
Don told me, “Was he a hero to me? No, my father was my hero. Was A.J. someone I admired as a racer? The answer to that is yes – is, was, and always will be. He was the first racer I called “my guy.”
Michael grew up having a strong appreciation for all racing, but it was a fateful trip to the grocery store and a magazine featuring the red and white Wood Brothers No. 21 Mercury that dazzled him.
Michael told me, “[It was] a Mercury just like the ones my father sold at our local Ford, Lincoln & Mercury dealership!”
Pearson was Michael’s driver from that point on. When Earnhardt entered the scene, Michael said, “I didn’t dump David as my driver, but instead I now had two favorite drivers.”
For these men loyalty to NASCAR was a combination of a shared love with their fathers, an allegiance to a car manufacturer and admiration for a specific driver.
These are just a random sampling of stories. What is your story? I would love to read it below…
For more from Candice Smith visit www.chief187.com.