The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Homework, Tennis Shoes, and that Kid Down the Street by Amy Henderson -- Thursday March 17, 2005

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OK, I admit it; I have the world’s biggest idea void this week. It’s been a long week, and I just didn’t get inspired to dig into historical databases or follow the usual route to stories. Then I thought, my column is about the stories behind the racing, of which I’ve heard many. I’ve been teaching my students about oral history and storytelling, the passing of stories from one person to another. In fact, one assignment has them retelling a story that someone has told them that they like. So, I’m going to do their homework. No, not for them, so if any of you are reading this, sorry, you still have to do the assignment. But I have a couple of stories that I’ve heard over the years, I’m not even sure where anymore, but they have become favorites of mine. So at risk of sounding like someone’s grandpa, come here, I’m going to tell you a story.

The first story is about good old Southern hospitality. Or the NASCAR family. Or something like that. Once upon a time, a young Michael Waltrip needed a place to stay while trying to make it in racing in North Carolina. Fellow racer and NASCAR nice guy Kyle Petty let Waltrip live in the basement of his family’s home. Waltrip was working for Petty Enterprises at the time.

As the story goes, one day some pipe or other sprung a leak and made a nice mess in the basement. Waltrip was not home at the time and Petty did what most homeowners would do in his situation-he went down to the basement to shut off the water. Upon arriving, he noticed that something smelled rather off. Stunk, in fact. Investigating further, it was discovered that the stench was, in fact, Waltrip’s tennis shoes. Once again, Petty did what most people would likely do in his situation-he gingerly picked up the offending shoes and flung them out the window, then went about fixing the water.

The absence of the tennis shoes was not noticed until their owner set about getting ready for work the next morning. Owing to that they were his only pair, Waltrip was at a loss. Later on, having arrived at work, (we’re assuming that substitute footwear was located), Waltrip was approached by none other than Kyle Petty’s dad, Richard, a.k.a. The King, and offered a room at the elder Petty’s house. Waltrip said that he realized later that he was being kicked out of Kyle’s. But it all worked out in the end. He moved into Kyle’s room.

The other story I’m going to share has nothing to do with tennis shoes or leaky pipes. It’s a favorite of mine because it reminds me of me as a kid, ’long about middle school. I used to drive my parents crazy because every time some kid needed a ride home from basketball practice or band practice, or to Girl Scouts, I’d offer the kid a ride without consulting my parents first. It drove them nuts, even though they would have offered the kid a ride anyway. The kid always got home, and Amy usually got off with a warning. This story is on the same theme and involves the late Ricky Hendrick and a neighborhood kid he offered a ride to.

As the story goes, the young Hendrick had a short night at a Busch Series race at Gateway a few years ago. Dad, also known as Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports was anxious to leave once it was evident that Ricky’s day was over, but his son had other ideas.

“But Dad, we can’t leave,” Ricky said. Seems he’d offered this other kid a ride home, and he was still in the race.

So they waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, a couple of hours later, the race ended, and the Hendricks and the kid got on the plane and headed for home. The kid had a lot of questions to ask the elder Hendrick, and by the time they landed, Hendrick felt like he’d known this kid forever.

This one worked out in the end too. Rick Hendrick ended giving the kid a job at the shop. You see, the kid with all the questions was Jimmie Johnson. And the rest is history.

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