They say there’s at least one book in all of us, and while in my case I don’t think that number is one – far from it – I can’t help but feel NASCAR Business PR man Andrew Giangola beat me to the punch, at least with this particular subject matter. The Weekend Starts on Wednesday chronicles the real life stories of a whole bunch of utterly devoted NASCAR fans. Some will be more than familiar to the fine folks who are reading this column; some less so. But no matter how knowledgeable you are the subject level, it’s a cracking good must-read if you’re a fan of fast cars turning left.
As a Brit, coming late to the party with NASCAR, one of the things that has fascinated me most is the passion of the sport’s fanbase. I grew up, quite literally, following the fortunes of the storied old English Premier League institution: Arsenal Football Club. From pretty much my earliest memories, my mood has been dictated by the swings in fortune of the team my father first started supporting in 1953. Moving to Manhattan in November 2001 the one thing, outside of friends and family, that I most knew I’d miss was the camaraderie from attending every Arsenal home game (and a fair few away fixtures, too.) So while I came to NASCAR through an unlikely route, it’s a sport that has taken hold of me like almost nothing before. Some of that is working in the sport for two years, some of it is writing for Frontstretch. But much of it is the fans – and their immense and mostly unshakable passion.
You see, there’s so much of the good in America you can see in NASCAR. Although I am a proud Welshman, I’ve loved my eight-plus years living this side of the pond in what I humbly consider to be the best city in the world – New York. And there’s something about NASCAR, and the fans, that just touches a nerve. From the passion of Junior Nation to the Said Heads, fans the length and breadth of the nation eat, breathe, and sleep the fortunes of their favorite drivers. For me, it’s the closest I’ve seen to the way English football fans follow their teams. Passion for something you can’t influence in any way shape or form, is by its very definition a curious thing. In the pages of Giangola’s hugely readable tome, you’re going to come across stories which will quite literally make you gasp.
Take Dr. Pat Hickey, for example, who brought a NASCAR flag to the summit of the highest point you can reach in the world, Mount Everest, or Colonel Doug Hurley, the pilot of the Space Shuttle “Endeavour.” Then there is the remarkable story of Corporal John Hyland, who lost his left leg in a Humvee attack in Iraq but didn’t let the impediment change his incredible spirit so much as one iota. At the Coke 600 this year, he’ll fulfill a lifelong ambition of singing the National Anthem as part of the pre-race ceremonies.
There’s also the story of Russ Friedman, injured twice in Iraq, who ended up having his name plastered over the 2009 Richmond race -remember the Crown Royal presents the Russell Friedman 400? In this day and age of “heroes” who run fast, hit long home runs and celebrate elaborately after simple touch downs, Friedman is a reminder of what a true hero is – that’s for sure. But it’s not just about what some would describe as high achievers or those with awesome jobs; it’s also a book about the rank and file – the regular fans who spend huge proportions of their disposable income on attending races.
With that in mind, you’ll love the chapter on “Bob’s Party Bus.” Trust me when I tell you, I’m going to find this bus at a race at some point this year, for sure.
Then there’s 82-year-old Jack Hege, who has attended every single Daytona 500 ever run and was lauded for his efforts at the drivers’ meeting before the 2009 Great American Race. Hege has bought all his 500 tickets from the same person – the irrepressible Juanita “Lightning” Epton. And you’ll certainly enjoy the story of Kenny Gregory who has a series of Fatheads (life-size cardboard cutouts) of the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch. You’ll particularly enjoy the recalcitrant fan who apologized, in person, for scrawling obscenities on the Gordon cutout. Good times: Nothing wrong with blind loyalty in my book. (I’d insert a smiley face here, but since this is an august website for serious discussion of the latest and greatest in NASCAR, I’ll resist – just about. )
Also, don’t miss the full story of the incredible Wessa Miller who gave Dale Earnhardt a lucky penny that he taped to his dash before his glorious 1998 Daytona 500 victory. You’ve also got a sprinkling of interviews with celebs such as Brian Jennings, Cole Trickle (sorry, I meant Tom Cruise), Jim Kramer and Kevin Costner, which are all good value tales to genuine NASCAR fans.
So, to conclude, if you love the great sport of NASCAR, and you enjoy reading my inane ramblings and the much more erudite opinions here on Frontstretch, I’m certain you’ll enjoy this book, which is written both for and about the fans of the greatest form of motorsport in the country.
Heck, some of you might even be in it.
And finally, a personal shout-out, to my brilliant baby sister, Dr. Jo, who turns the big three zero this Thursday. She’s not so very happy about it, so it would be utterly remiss of me not to remind her. Happy Birthday sis…