One of the great ironies of auto racing is that the sport is in many ways a family-oriented affair, but at the same time too much family participation can be a bad thing.
Racing dads are usually the main culprits.
And in another ironic twist, a racer is most successful when they’re charging full speed, rarely backing off and putting a 100-percent focus on the job at hand, but when it comes to being a successful racing dad or mom or fiancé or friend, the best ones learn to back off in the heat of battle.
It has to be hard on those racing dads and moms. They’ve devoted lots of time and money to jump start their kid’s careers. They obviously have good racing instincts or their kids wouldn’t have advanced past the entry-level divisions. But at some point, an overactive dad or mom or friend or fiancé becomes a liability for a driver. Car owners and crew chiefs and even NASCAR officials have enough egos and opinions to juggle without having to hear from dads too.
It wasn’t an unusual scene. Something similar to that probably occurred at dozens of short tracks the night before.
I once saw a driver involved in an on-track incident at Senoia Raceway literally pick up his mother, who literally was kicking and screaming, and place her inside the team’s tow truck, slamming the door behind her to keep her from making a bad situation even worse.
On another night at Senoia, a father-in-law got carried away when his son-in-law’s car was damaged in a crash. The quickly escalating pit-road fracas ended with a relatively innocent bystander, who was attempting to quell the disturbance, getting knocked out of his britches – literally.
A hard uppercut to his jaw sent the poor man about a foot straight up into the air. For some reason, his khaki pants never moved. Soon they were down by his ankles, with his belt still fastened.
Amazingly he was able to pull up his pants and continue on. The father-in-law needed stitches to close a cut below his eye.
As is usually the case in such incidents, the drivers involved in the incident on the track steered clear of the trouble in the pits.
Once at Dixie Speedway, two drivers who had an ongoing, fender-banging rivalry on the track, managed to talk their way through an incident only to see one’s crew member try to ambush the other driver as he made a pit stop, so to speak. The would-be attacker wound up being rubbed like a mop on the muddy restroom floor.
NASCAR team owner Eddie Wood has spent a good bit of time being a racing dad for his son Jon. Wood often says that the best thing that happened to his son’s driving career and to his own role as a racing dad was when his son signed on to drive in the truck series for Jack Roush.
Eddie Wood eased himself out of the picture of his son’s racing, and let Roush do any interfering that needed to be done.
Tony Stewart’s dad, Nelson Stewart, who can be as much of a firebrand as his son, has come to accept his low-key role in his son’s career.
After being heavily involved in the early days, Nelson Stewart is like a fly on the wall today. He rarely misses one of his son’s races, but unless you look for him you’d never know he was there.
Wood and Stewart blazed career paths that any racing dad would be wise to follow.
Rick Minter is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist who joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1991 covering motorsports as well as serving as a bureau chief. From 2000-2008 Minter focused on racing exclusively, traveling the NASCAR circuit as the paper’s motorsports writer.
Rick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org