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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Yellow Stripe: Lunch in New York with 2010 Daytona 500 Winner Jamie McMurray

I don’t suspect there were too many NASCAR fans disappointed by the switch of the end of season banquet from New York City to Las Vegas – but count me among the tiny minority that was upset.

Having had the privilege and pleasure of living in the world’s greatest city (in my humble opinion) you learn to live with the small annoyances: matchbox-sized apartments, ludicrously crowded streets, over-priced delis, pot holes that make that little dip at Daytona look like a mild bump… and the like. The simple fact is that you either love or hate New York and there’s really no in-between. You either get it or you don’t. And if you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s coming from someone who adores New York.

Now, with the shift of the end of season festivities to Sin City, the times when NASCAR comes to New York are even fewer than they were before. So when I got the email that Jamie McMurray would be at the Friar’s Club for a media lunch this Tuesday, I couldn’t resist. (Oh, and the location is one block from my office but I’d still have gone regardless.)

For the uninitiated, which I’m guessing is most of you, The Friar’s Club is located in Midtown, Manhattan and is a five-story English renaissance house – a fact I naturally enjoy as a Brit. It’s been the home of the famed club since 1957 which, perhaps, is best known for their signature “Celebrity Roasts” where the great and good of the entertainment world are brought down to size, by friends, colleagues and other guests, all in the name of good humor. It was a terrific location for the event, which featured a great lunch (steak and sea bass, folks) and a chance to sit down with McMurray and fire questions at him following his victory in Sunday’s Great American Race.

As you would expect, Jamie Mac was in fine form, joking with the reporters and the NASCAR folks who organized the event. Then again, if you’re not in fine form after winning the biggest race on the NASCAR schedule then you need help – serious help. And he was candid as to the importance of the race in the wider world of sport. “I’ve known the guys that have won the race over the last 10-15 years” said McMurray, “I’m friends with them; I hang out with them… but until you experience it you don’ t really realize how special it is, how big it is. You get to go on Regis and Kelly, on Letterman and you realize there’s a story there… people are genuinely interested to hear what you have to say, to see what you’re like on a personal side. I always thought the Daytona 500 was about the race but there’s so much more that goes along with this.”

McMurray, winner of four races in a 259-race career, also pointed out the importance and the wider significance of the 500 in a sporting context. “I remember when I won at Charlotte (his first victory in just his second race at the Cup level) and I thought there will never be a feeling like this again but certainly, [after] winning the 500 only a championship or another 500 could compare to it,” he said. And in response to a question asking about the tears in victory lane and in front of the assembled media, McMurray was succinct and to the point: “I was a train wreck.”

When asked about the moment after the race when he got out of his car, ran for the flag then came back and pounded the 500 sign painted in the grass, McMurray joked that it was “something I’ll never forget. I wish I had my phone and could have taken a picture or sent a tweet.” Ah yes, the ever connected, always on world we live in folks. And when asked by the ever-helpful NASCAR staff why didn’t he bring a suit in case he won, McMurray was equally jocular. “It’s a sure jinx…” he said… “even next year there’s no way I’ll bring a suit… it will never happen.”

And finally, when asked whether or not he minded about all the questions he had to answer, McMurray was quick to respond. “It’s easy because you already know the answer to every question, because it’s all about you….”

I’m sure there will be plenty more questions to come in the coming week, and I’m sure McMurray won’t mind answering each and every one of them, because no matter what happens throughout the rest of his Sprint Cup career, he’ll always be a Daytona 500 champion – something that no one can ever take away from him.

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