The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Four For the History Books by Amy Henderson -- Thursday November 3, 2005

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History has two purposes. First, and more commonly, it tells us about our past-what happened to get us to this point. It tells us, if you will, that NASCAR has seen six drivers win four championships in a row in various divisions prior to 2005. That’s pretty amazing, if you think about it. Four years of complete consistency with very few mistakes. I’m pretty amazed by these numbers. Take Richie Evans of Rome, NY. Evans won eight modified championships in a row. Eight. And he backed that up with four straight titles in the Northeast Region Weekly Racing Series. Pretty amazing, and unfortunately before my time. I love to read the old stories, see the pictures, imagine what it must have been like. That after all, is history’s first purpose.

But history also has a second purpose. It puts the events that occur in our own lifetimes into a greater context. NASCAR crowned a new four-time-in-a-row champion on October 30. Busch North Series Champion Andy Santerre becomes the seventh man on a prestigious and exclusive list. And this time around, I can say I was there. No, not at every race; not even most of them. Some, for sure. But this time, it’s personal. Santerre has long been the guy I pull for in Busch North, so it’s a race fan’s victory as well. But what makes history special is that I can say I remember this story. And that’s history’s second purpose-leaving a rich oral story beginning with the extraordinary events that can take place at any moment.

I can say that in my lifetime as a race fan this driver from Cherryfield, Maine joined a list that today’s top names in NASCAR can only dream about. And that’s not the only story in this four-year run of titles for one driver. For this is one driver who headed into the 2005 season as a crew chief before joining his current championship team. One driver whose career may have ended in a horrific crash at Daytona that broke his leg and changed the course, but not the purpose, of his career. One driver who, after pulling through a life-threatening illness as a teenager, might never have raced at all.

You can’t say that Andy Santerre’s story is a conventional one. Santerre was tagged as the next rising star in the NASCAR Busch Series ranks. He raced most of the 1998 Busch schedule and was slated for a 1999 run before a crash at Daytona changed all that. Santerre’s leg would eventually heal, but the road his career would follow was forever altered. His first race back after the injury was a Busch North stint at New Hampshire in July of 1999. He won. He followed that up the following week with a race at Pike’s Peak in his Busch Series car. He won that too. What the crash at Daytona took from Santerre was the fearlessness that drivers must put up at the bigger tracks. So Santerre returned to the Busch North ranks, winning his first series championship in 2002. He hasn’t looked back since, successfully defending every title to date.

What makes Santerre’s story that much more amazing is that there was a time when racing was the furthest thing from Santerre’s mind. Just surviving was the immediate goal when then nineteen-year-old Santerre contracted Guillian-Barre Syndrome and spent more than two months in the hospital. The first 32 days of that time was spent in an ICU unit on a ventilator. The illness brought with it a list of complications both long and frightening. Paralysis. Kidney Failure. Pneumonia. Viral infection. Santerre’s family feared the worst, but the tall, thin kid from Cherryfield never gave up, and a couple of years later started down the path that has included everything from the horrific to the euphoric.

And now Andy Santerre is the first driver in the NASCAR Busch North Series to win four straight championships. It’s the first time that I, as a race fan, have had the chance to write about such a feat in the present tense. The fact that it’s a driver I have cheered for since before his career took its twist at Daytona makes it even more memorable for me. And again history serves its two-fold purpose. It puts Andy Santerre’s name forever in the record books so that writers 50 years from now can read the stories, see the pictures, imagine what it must have been like. And it makes a story right now that one writer will still tell 50 years from now. That is history.

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Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.