Win One for Me, Daddy
The 1987 season was a tough year. Up to that point, I was at the top of the world of racing. I had won three NASCAR Winston Cup championships. I had won about seventy races in NASCAR Winston Cup and many poles. Racing had been very good to me. But in 1987, I was with a new team, and things weren't going very well. It had been expected that this new team would go gangbusters. We were the dream team. I had the best backing from the Hendrick Motorsports Group, an excellent sponsorship, and the best engine builder in racing. However, going into the last part of the season, we still had not won a race. This had not happened to me since I got my first NASCAR Winston Cup win in 1975. In addition to my not winning races, we found out that Stevie, my wife, was pregnant. All of this was emotionally tough for me. Stevie had three miscarriages previously, including one in 1986. She had never been able to carry a baby to full term, and I felt badly for her. I leaned on her so much. She is my best friend and had always been with me at every race.
Now she was not able to go to the track each weekend with me. That was difficult. Stevie has always been such a part of my life and my racing career. We had always gone to races together. I had not experienced life at the track without Stevie. I have been deeply in love with her since we met in high school back in Owensboro, Kentucky. She has stood by me with much encouragement through the ups and downs and boos and cheers of fans. She had set a new standard in racing by being a part of my race team on Sundays at a time when women were not allowed in the pits. It was tough on me to be racing without her there.
On September 17, we were blessed with our first child, Jessica Leigh. We were very excited! I had to leave to go on to the next race later that week. The race was at Martinsville, Virginia, where I had won several times before. But I had no expectations of winning this time. As the race progressed I really had no hope of winning, as I was a lap down with just twenty-five laps to go. Dale Earnhardt was leading. When he stopped for fuel, I got back on the lead lap. Then a caution came out with about seven laps to go. On the restart, I was in third place behind Earnhardt and Terry Labonte. Both of these guys were previous champions and were tough, hard racers. There was no way I was going to get by them with just a few laps to go. They could make it very difficult to get around them. On the final lap in the final turns of 3 and 4, Terry had gotten up beside Dale and left just a little opening for me to pass both of them, beating them to the finish line. I won my first race of the year! It was much more special, though, than just being my first win of the season and my first victory with the new team. For earlier that Sunday morning, appearing from nowhere, I was surprised to find a little rosebud in the seat of my car with a note that said, "Win one for me, Daddy!" My first race of the season was sweetened by it occurring on the same day that I was first called "Daddy."
By Darrell Waltrip with Max Helton
Learning from Dylan
Riverhead Raceway, a NASCAR-sanctioned track, is a tight quarter-mile facility that runs up to six classes on any given Saturday. Those divisions are the Blunderbust, Charger, Late Model, Super Pro Truck, Figure Eight and Modified. The Modified division is the featured division. A demolition derby or other novelty attraction may be scheduled on any given night. In the summer of 2000, we (the local division of Racing 4 Kids Charities) decided to host a night at the races for a child and his or her family.
The child chosen was eight-year- old Dylan Hronec, who was brought to our attention by Henry "The Phantom" Cataldo and his crew chief Kenny Webber. Dylan has cerebral palsy. Webber was by trade a contractor, who met Dylan while working at Dylan's home, installing a handicapped ramp. Webber had observed Dylan playing with a toy Matchbox race car, rolling it down the ramp.
After watching the boy play for a while, Kenny asked if Dylan was a race fan. An excited Dylan quickly answered "yes." After work, Webber relayed the story to his race team at the team's shop.
Soon after, Henry stopped by to meet Dylan at his home. Dylan proved to be a very friendly, intelligent, upbeat young man with a positive dis-position, despite the disability that life gave him.
When the day arrived, Dylan, along with his brother Gregg and his parents, met us outside the back spectator gate, where we proceeded inside the facility. Once inside, we found our seats behind the starter's stand by the start/finish line.
Dylan's family was provided with free admission, dinner, sou-venirs and munchies throughout the evening. Many drivers, crewmembers, car owners and track officials made the long trek from the pit area to the spectator area to greet Dylan and his fami-ly, some giving him team T-shirts and autographed pictures. During the week leading up to the races, several teams even had special messages for Dylan placed on their race cars.
During the evening, the track announcer, Bob Finan, came down from the press box to say hello to Dylan and his family. The announcer also asked Dylan to help with the NASCAR Modified Victory Lane presentation.
At one point, driver Kevin Metzger won the evening's Late Model feature race. During the Victory Lane ceremony, Kevin acknowledged Dylan over the track public- address system. After he pulled his car out of Victory Lane and off the track, a track employee came up to where we were all sitting.
"Where's Dylan?" he asked. After being pointed out, the track worker handed the win-ner's trophy to the stunned Dylan.
"Kevin Metzger asked me to give this to you," he told the happy and surprised youngster.
Later that evening, Chuck Steuer won the Modified feature. Dylan was brought down on to the track, where he helped Bob Finan with the Victory Lane celebration.
"Congratulations!" Dylan said as he presented the trophy to Steuer. There were many photos taken of Dylan and Steuer in Victory Lane, as well as videos by track photographers.
Henry Cataldo, Kenny Webber, and other drivers and officials came onto the track unknown to Dylan, as he was busy with the celebrations. When everyone was together, we called Dylan over to where we had gathered.
"Dylan," I said over the public-address system, "on behalf of Henry Cataldo, Kenny Webber, John Wellman of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Long Island, all of the drivers in the Modified division, the Riverhead Raceway officials, promoters Barbara and Jim Cromarty, and Racing 4 Kids, we'd like to present you with this helmet, which was signed by all of the Modified drivers who have been at Riverhead Raceway in the last three weeks."
The stunned youngster said "Thank you" as he stared at the helmet in disbelief, while thou-sands in attendance applauded. It was both heartwarming and surprising to watch the competitors, officials and Dylan's parents who were standing trackside, all with tears in their eyes. And there sat Dylan with an ear-to-ear grin, his head capped with his new auto-graphed helmet, holding the trophy that was given to him.
In the weeks following, we received a package from Dylan containing pictures, drawings and notes of appreciation from him and his family. My wife and I were left with a feeling of com-plete joy, knowing that Dylan was able to experience something so wonderful. We were trying to show Dylan that there were people out there who real-ly care, and who want to help. But Dylan already knew that; the lesson was one that the rest of us learned.
Mike Fields ¬2003.
¬2003. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Matthew E. Adams, Jeff Aubery, Kirk Autio. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.
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