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First Place
Steve Waid, motorsportsunplugged.com

 

Gordon’s Hospital Provides Care For Children – And A Revelation For An Interloper

            It was just another day at the hospital, or so I thought.
            I had just finished one more go-around – lay down on a table, face and head covered with a contraption that made me look like the “Man In The Iron Mask” and listen to the hum of a machine shooting invisible rays into my neck.
            The treatment never hurt but after a while the side effects were intense.
            This time, for some reason, the procedure wasn’t as routine as it had been.
            As usual my throat was sore, it hurt to swallow and my mouth was dry. But, unusually, my spirits were low. I was depressed where once I had been upbeat and confident.
 I thought to myself, “How did it come to this? Why me?”
I took the elevator up to the first floor – they poisoned me in the basement – and my eyes caught the words, “Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital.”
I had seen them before, many times in fact, but never paid them any attention. Why would I?
I paused for a moment before I felt the strange compulsion to see that place. I was lured like metal to a magnet. I really don’t know why.
I took the elevator up a flight, stepped off and found my way to the facility. It was modern and well appointed. If I hadn’t known what it was I would have never thought it was a place where sick children received treatment. It looked more like the offices of a high-priced law firm.
I looked around a bit and then something compelled me to be an interloper. I ignored any rules about visitors as I sauntered down a hall and stole quick glances into a couple of rooms.
I’m sure I was noticed. But no one seemed to mind.
It took only those few peeks to tell me why I had come. It wasn’t simple curiosity or to comfort children by any means. It was to comfort myself.
“You gutless wonder,” I said to myself. “What do you have to worry about? You think you have it bad? These kids are just getting started in life and have to overcome a hell of a lot more than you do.
“And think about what their parents must be going through.”
When I left, I resolved to do a couple of things. I would no longer feel sorry for myself – which I never did – and I would learn more about the hospital that bore the name of the four-time NASCAR champion.
I learned that the hospital was part of the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, which was created in 1999 with the mission to support children battling cancer by funding programs that offered treatment, with the goal of improving the patient’s quality of life.
The hospital, located in Concord, N.C., was opened in December of 2006 to serve children in the community with a high level of primary and specialty care, regardless of their ability to pay.
I didn’t know any of that.
Beyond the hospital, the foundation has donated $10 million to the most recognized children’s health and support organizations. Among them are the Children’s Oncology Group/CureSearch, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Speedway Children’s Charities and the Victory Junction Camp.
Cancer is the leading disease-killer of children in the United States. Nearly 13,500 children are diagnosed with it each year.
I didn’t know that, either.
But I do know Gordon. And I thought I would talk to him about his foundation. Yes, several drivers have foundations for which, I am sure, many people – and animals – are grateful.
But why a hospital? Gordon’s foundation could have invested in just about anything it deemed worthy.
“We wanted to focus on children and pediatric research and treatment,” Gordon said. “Those are our primary goals as well as caring for children who are battling any type of injury or illness.”
Gordon said the opportunity to lend his name and the foundation’s support to a children’s hospital arose when he was approached by Carolinas Medical Center Northeast in Concord.
“It happened in a roundabout way,” he said. “Basically, Northeast came to us and said, ‘We are building a children’s hospital. We are looking for sponsorship and for people who want to be involved. We know you have a children’s foundation and would you be interested?’
“We told them we would be very interested. It all came together and allowed us to make it the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital, which is something we are very, very proud of.”
Gordon is involved in several charities as are many other NASCAR competitors. But the hospital bears his name, which certainly can provide it positive attention.
Suffice it to say the public, especially the racing public, is well aware of it.
“Because of its location a lot of our team members as well as members of other teams in our community who have had their children there, come back and say, ‘We had our children treated like gold and thank you so much,’ ” said Gordon, who is in contention for a fifth career title.         
            “I get letters all the time from people saying thank you for building this hospital. Not that I built it but it’s nice to know that I played a role in it.
            “It’s the ones who work there that are doing a terrific job. That’s what it is all about.”
            Gordon was not a father when he formed his foundation nor when the children’s hospital was created. But one gets the sense, through what he accomplished, that he always wanted to be.
            He is now. He and wife Ingrid have two children, Ella and Leo. Like any other father, he now is more cognizant of what can happen to kids.
            “I think to be that way is important,” Gordon said. “I think it is important to know how precious life is and to enjoy every moment of every day with your children.
            “You also have to make sure you are doing everything you can to keep them healthy. But looking at the world today you have to know that sometimes you can’t control it. Something can happen to anyone at any time and you don’t have an explanation.”
            For stricken children and their parents, no explanation is needed when it comes to treatment at the hospital that bears Gordon’s name. Everything is done for them.
            Gordon lends much more than his name to the facility. As befits all celebrities who deal with foundations and charities, he is personally involved – and then some.      
            “One of the greatest things the hospital has provided me is that I took Ella over there last Christmas and we handed out bags of goodies, toys, books, markers and things like that to children who were there prior to Christmas,” Gordon said.
            “It was an unbelievable experience. Watching her take on that responsibility and recognizing how much it meant to the children, at just three and one-half years old, brought a tear to my eye. I was so proud.
            “We plan on doing it again this year.”
            It is obvious that as much as sick children and their caring parents can gain, physically and emotionally, from the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital, others can, too – including the driver himself and his family.

What Ails Kyle Busch Can Be Cured By Maturity

            Kyle Busch’s actions in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Texas nearly a week ago created, for a time, a firestorm of debate.
            When Busch deliberately wrecked championship challenger Ron Hornaday, NASCAR responded by parking him for the rest of the event and the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races later that weekend.
That action effectively squashed any hopes Busch and the Joe Gibbs Racing team had of winning a Cup title.
Then, on the Monday after the Cup race, NASCAR announced that it had fined Busch $50,000 and placed him on probation for the rest of the year. Should he violate that probation he would be indefinitely suspended.
Admittedly, all of this is a very harsh judgment.
This week it has been reported that Busch might be pulled from the Gibbs’ ride for Phoenix and Homestead. The final decision was that of Gibbs and the team’s sponsors. NASCAR had cleared Busch to compete in the final two events of the year.
As of this writing nothing was official.
The controversy that boiled earlier in the week centered on the sanctioning body’s rulings at Texas and afterward. Was Busch punished adequately – or even not enough?
Or were NASCAR’s actions too harsh, even inappropriate, given that it has completely avoided any penalties for those who appeared to have committed crimes as great as Busch’s?
Does NASCAR carry a vendetta against Busch, who has been a constant source of irritation for years?
After digesting much that has already been said and written, I’ll offer an opinion – for what it may be worth.
I’ll start by saying something I think no one can deny.
Busch is an incredibly talented race driver.
In the space of only eight years in NASCAR, the 26-year-old competitor from Las Vegas has won 23 Sprint Cup races, a record 51 on the Nationwide Series and 30 in trucks.
That’s 104 wins in NASCAR’s top three national touring series. I can think of no other driver who has even approached that in so short a time. At his young age Busch has the opportunity to establish several all-time records.
He has risen to the top of his profession and in so doing has made himself a millionaire many times over. There can be no doubt he’s earned his celebrity.
Yes, Busch has a massive amount of talent.
But he also has a very meager amount of maturity.
Immaturity is, in fact, the cause of all of Busch’s problems.
I don’t know if he thinks he’s better than anyone else, or that he should be able to do what he wants when he wants, but I do know that his actions last week – and several times in the past – clearly indicate he allows his emotions to overrule his judgment.
To establish himself as a respected competitor whose interactions with others, and behavior on and off the track, match his obvious talent, Busch must grow up. It’s that simple.
If he doesn’t, I can assure you that in time, team owners and sponsors will become fed up with a person they perceive to be a spoiled brat who, for them, creates more harm than good.
I am very aware drivers are highly competitive and, in the heat of battle, can respond harshly when they think they have been wronged. It happens all the time.
For Busch, however, it has become routine. Afterward he has issued apologies coupled with the promise that it won’t happen again. He apologized one more time for his actions at Texas, to which many have responded, “Yeah, so what?”
A couple of Busch’s sponsors have expressed their disapproval and have issued their own ultimatums.  
Busch is not unique. There have been other drivers rich with talent and short on maturity.
Tony Stewart, a two-time NASCAR champion, is a former Gibbs driver whose knowledge of anger management was nil. He virtually assaulted a photographer and a reporter and got into spats and on-track incidents with other drivers. He thus sustained, many times, harsh NASCAR – and sponsor - judgment.
There was a time when, because of his words and actions, he had to fight to keep his job.
But today, while some may suggest he is still somewhat of an obnoxious smart aleck, I think he’s realized that he has to act sensibly and hold his emotions in check, at least publicly.
Perhaps part of that is because he’s a team owner with multiple responsibilities.
Kurt Busch, Kyle’s older brother is another example.
Without going into great detail, the elder Busch was removed from his car for the final two races of 2005 in a joint decision from Roush Fenway Racing and sponsors after being charged by Arizona sheriffs for reckless driving.
Said Roush officials: “We are tired of being Kurt Busch’s apologists.”
Prior to that, Busch, the 2004 champion, had acquired a reputation as an incorrigible.
Today I think we see a different older brother. Yes, we’ve all heard how sarcastic and mean-spirited he sounds via radio communication with his team, but so what? He’s entitled. That’s within his territory and not the public’s.
Last I saw, he didn’t deliberately wreck anyone nor throw a punch or two in the garage area.
I hope I am not proven wrong in the future but I do believe that two of Kyle Busch’s contemporaries, his brother and Stewart, have learned lessons.
He can do the same.
As for NASCAR, admittedly it set the stage for some on-track altercations when it established the “Boys, have at it” philosophy, which encouraged drivers to settle differences among themselves.
This was in response to fans’ complaints that drivers had become too politically correct and the true rough-and-tumble spirit of stock car racing had been lost.
But NASCAR also said that it would step in if things got out of hand – which is simply logical – and that it would know when that line was crossed.
Which is what it thought happened in the Texas truck race.
I have seen and heard reports that with the younger Busch, NASCAR went too far especially since previous fouls by others, seemingly just as blatant, occurred without punishment or even response.
It has been suggested that NASCAR simply overreacted with Busch.
This is utter nonsense.
What Busch did was so flagrant, so obvious that had not NASCAR responded harshly it would be considered impotent and the biggest joke in professional sports.
Who could have not clearly seen or understood what happened? A friend of mine, whose knowledge of stock car racing is miniscule, watched a replay and said, “Are they allowed to do that? Don’t people get hurt?”
There was no gray area here; no issue for debate. NASCAR had to strongly deal with it and it did – rightly so.
My conclusion to is that Kyle Busch’s talent and achievements are irrefutable. They should be, and have been, recognized.
What he lacks is maturity.
He can acquire that. Frankly, he must.
When, and if, he does, he may well indeed rise to the rank of champion and in time become one of the best, among fans and peers, NASCAR has ever had.
It’s all up to him.

For Kenny Wallace, To Give To Special People Is More Special For Him

            CONCORD, N.C. - It’s a sure bet that, within the space of a week, Kenny Wallace has done a couple of things no other NASCAR driver has.
            He served as coach and navigator for a blind man who took a spin around Charlotte Motor Speedway in his restored Camaro.
            Then, six days later, he returned to drive a special visitor around the 1.5-mile track. She is the oldest living breast cancer survivor in North Carolina – and she is 102 years old.
            Thus, the 48-year-old Wallace got the opportunity to play a special part in the lives of two unique people, a fact that has certainly not been lost on him.
            “It made me feel like a million dollars,” said Wallace, youngest of the racing Wallace clan that includes brothers Rusty and Mike.
            The effusive, outgoing Wallace, who is also a television personality and who can ingratiate himself to anyone quickly and easily, is a natural when dealing with people. He’s engaging and friendly and it doesn’t take long for folks to feel comfortable around him.
            So it seemed obvious that CMS would recruit him for a couple of hospitality events.
            “It surprised me, really,” Wallace said. “Megan (Englehart) from SPEED called me up and said the track had asked her if I would be interested in taking a blind man around the race track.
            “At first I thought, ‘that sounds a little scary.’ But I knew all the Cup guys were out at Phoenix testing the new track there so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it. No problem.’”
            The sightless man is Ronnie Presnell, a 62-year-old former Mecklenburg County (N.C.) sheriff’s deputy. In 1998 he was involved in a car accident that put him in a coma for six weeks.
            He endured reconstructive surgery on his face and lost his eyesight permanently.
            Presnell, a racing buff who built his own cars and has competed on dirt tracks, decided he needed a project after he came home from the hospital. So he began to restore his 1968 Camaro.
            He hoped that one day he could drive it around CMS.
            When that happened it was Wallace’s task to guide Presnell around the track at 20-25 mph.
            “I thought I was just going to the track to be with a blind man who wanted to take a few laps,” said Wallace. “It was pretty different and, I’ll admit, a bit nerve wracking to direct him as he drove.
            “But we did it and it was a blast.”
            No doubt Presnell benefitted from what was surely a rewarding experience for him. But Wallace reaped some unanticipated rewards.
            “The next day I go to the airport to go to Kansas City,” he said. “I look up at the TV in the airport and I see that I’m on Headline News. Then everyone was lighting up my phone. What happened with me at the track ended up news all over the world.”
            Wallace could hardly anticipate there would be more to come. But there was.
            “Nationwide wanted me to do Dash For Cash press conferences with Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse and Ryan Truex. I said OK.
            “While we’re doing the press conferences Nationwide tells me that the speedway’s Marcus Smith (track president) wanted to know if I would drive a 102-year-old lady around the track.
            “Sounded a lot easier that what I had already done so I said, ‘No problem,’”
            The lady is Nannie Sue Neal of Waxhaw, N.C., who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1954. She underwent a radical mastectomy and has now been free of cancer for 57 years.
            She was named an honorary race official for the Oct. 14 Dollar General 300 Miles of Courage      Nationwide race, which seems appropriate, given that the event’s theme is awareness of the fight against breast cancer through the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure.
            Wallace drove Neal, who has watched three generations of the Earnhardt family race, in a pink Toyota Camry.
            “Then I ended up on the front page of the newspaper again,” Wallace said. “The next time I saw Marcus Smith I said, ‘Hey, I can’t drive a race car forever. If you want to hire me and put me on a retainer I’d love to do all your hospitality for you.’
            “But I’ll be honest with you. I was lucky. Marcus was so pleased with how it all turned out that he called my boss at SPEED and told him how good a job I did.”
            Wallace, however, never considered personal gain of any kind when he agreed to work with CMS.
            If he hadn’t gotten a single piece of notoriety, or any mention whatsoever via the media, Wallace would have done it anyway.
And he wouldn’t have had to be asked. If he knew, without being told, why Presnell and Neal were to be at CMS he would have been there also.
“I think what might have caught some people off guard about all of this is that sometimes they think I’m always putting on a show,” Wallace said. “That’s wrong. I’m genuine.
“I would have done it all anyway. Forget any kind of show.
“Here’s a guy, Ronnie Presnell, who gets T-boned in his car and loses his sight. When I think of him my mind races back to the days of Dale Earnhardt and my brother Rusty. I don’t dwell in the past but I learn from it.
            “I have a soft spot in my heart for those fans that grew up in that era – when NASCAR was at its ultimate rising point and there were 50,000 fans in the grandstands for qualifying.
            “I know that Ronnie Presnell was one of those fans. I also know that Nannie Sue Neal loved Dale Earnhardt and that his son is her favorite driver. I can’t help but have place in my heart for her, Ronnie and people like them.”
            Wallace also admits that the effect his racing career has had on him made him much more aware of others – all of whom, of course, have had their share of trials and tribulations.
            “I look at myself and I’ve got three beautiful daughters, I’ve been happily married and I’ve had a great racing career,” Wallace said. “But I’ve been roughed up a bit in my career. I wanted to be Jeff Gordon. I wanted it bad. Didn’t happen.
            “But then I realize I have so much more than many and I also realize that many times people don’t care enough about, or for, each other.
            “That hardens me. It fills me with resolve. So I tend to be more sensitive. I try to always pay it forward.”
            Which he did, most willingly, for two special people.

Bayne’s Words Reflect Wisdom Beyond Age

            CONCORD, N.C. - After the press conference he held at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday, I have reached a couple of conclusions about Trevor Bayne.
            He is mature well beyond his years. And he expresses a unique, and refreshing, perspective on life and all the good and bad therein.
            Bayne made his first appearance in front of the media since he was sidelined from competition due to a mysterious, and as yet undiagnosed, illness.
            The last time he competed in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race was at Talladega on April 17.
            Afterward he began to suffer symptoms of inflammation, double vision, weariness and nausea, among others. It was thought he might have had a major reaction to an insect bite.
            His employers at Roush Fenway Racing removed him from competition and, over a period of several weeks, had him thoroughly checked out by doctors and even sent, twice, to the prestigious Mayo Clinic.
            Bayne, the surprising and popular winner of the Daytona 500 in the Wood Brothers Racing Ford, was eligible for the NASCAR All-Star Race, but was held back. It disappointed him.
            Nor will he race in the Coca-Cola 600. His seat has been given to Roush teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., a friend.
            Bayne’s next start will be in the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland on June 4 and then he’ll return to the Wood Brothers at Michigan on June 18.
            “I’ve been feeling fine for over a week now,” Bayne said. “Last weekend I took off as a caution and they made me take off this week as a caution.
            “They have been way over the top, cautious on everything. This weekend I would have been fine to run, but I think we want to just make sure.”
            Bayne is just 20 years old and was a virtual unknown until his Daytona 500 victory. Since that time he has become vastly familiar to racing fans, young and old alike.
            In the weeks after his victory, Bayne set out on a whirlwind tour of media and personal appearances. Because of his celebrity, youth and good looks he became a hit among the ‘tweeners.”
            I don’t believe anyone can say newly found celebrity status has changed Bayne, a level-headed type who believes faith and charity far surpass social status.
             We have heard of many celebrities whose only interests and thoughts are about themselves – mind you, certainly not all of them.
            And not Bayne. When he made his opening remarks at the press conference, he didn’t talk about himself. Rather, he expressed gratitude to others and appreciation for being allowed to do what he loves.
            “It’s been a real eye opener of how supportive everyone in our sport is,” Bayne said. “I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned through all of this.
            “Carl Edwards flew up and saw me in Minnesota (location of the Mayo clinic) and Tony Stewart was using his plane to fly my family back and forth. Jack (Roush) was sending me back and forth on his plane and Michael McDowell was with me for five days.
            “Another thing that has been put into perspective for me is how blessed we are to be race car drivers. We get wrapped up sometimes and go through the motions, but when you have to sit there for four or five weeks and watch races, you realize how cool it is that you get to be the one driving it.”
            At the Mayo Clinic, Bayne underwent virtually every test imaginable, including an MRI and spinal taps.
            “Spinal taps at midnight aren’t exactly what you are looking forward to, but they happen,” Bayne said.
            At one point, Bayne said, he had 16 needles in his body at once, along with shock pads and “things I didn’t even know existed.”
            But in the end, doctors could not pinpoint the cause of his illness.
            “It’s not terminal or anything like that,” Bayne said. “I head somebody say cancer or leukemia but those aren’t words I heard in the hospital. They ruled out all those things.
            “I am hoping it was a temporary inflammation that caused it all and it has been going away, as they said from day one. It should be a four-week deal and then go away.”
            It’s now gone away long enough for Bayne to return to racing less than a week after the Coca-Cola 600. Hopefully he’s missed his last races of the season because of any mysterious malady.
            Bayne was, career-wise, as high as any racer could be after his Daytona win. Then he had to sit out for several weeks through no fault of his own.
            Under those circumstances, it could be understood if any competitor said, “Why me?”
            Bayne never said that. Instead, he philosophized and reasoned that what has happened has, in fact, helped him be a better man.
            “This year is just helping me figure out what I’m made of,” Bayne said. “If you can handle the biggest high you can have and then the lowest bottom, the rest of the year should be easy from here.
            “I didn’t want to go from the top to the bottom but luckily I do have my faith and that’s what defines me. If I was defined by anything else I’d be in trouble right now.
            “I just am thankful for the ups and downs and everything that has helped me find out what I’m made of and who is there to support me.”
            Credit maturity, faith or both – Trevor Bayne expresses wisdom far beyond his age.

“Brooksie” Was Symbolic Of The NASCAR Driver That Once Was

Many years ago, when NASCAR was much younger, far more informal and not nearly as popular or wealthy as it is now, the competitive environment was different – needless to say.
Most guys who raced acted on a whim and competed only when they thought it might be fun or somewhat profitable.
Sure, the sport had its heroes, guys who got the backing it took to compete for championships and earn the glory and the headlines.
But they were always in the minority.
NASCAR got a bit more sophisticated in the 1970s when R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. came on board and established the Winston Cup Series, which included a championship point fund that grew steadily, and impressively, over the years.
As for the competitors, they remained pretty much the same. There were the stars, of course, like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison – but the majority of the drivers they beat were still a rag-tag bunch.
Like their predecessors most came around when it suited them. Others competed regularly in hopes of making a profit through the points system.
They came and went. They had names like Eddie Yarboro, Dean Dalton, Henley Gray, Walter Ballard, Earl Brooks, George Althedie, Joe Frasson, Travis Tiller, Carl Adams, David Sisco and Alton Jones.
I daresay you haven’t heard of most of them.
As mentioned, there were regulars – guys out to make a buck by competing on a full schedule and hope to finish as high in points as possible.
Among this group were the more familiar names of Richard Childress, James Hylton, Buddy Arrington, Cecil Gordon and Frank Warren.
There was one other – and he was unique.
The late Dick Brooks was an anomaly. First, he was far removed from the Southern “good ol’ boy.”
He hailed from Porterville, Calif., of all places, where, as he would tell us all, he led a pretty hardscrabble life with a family that learned how live off the land.
Brooks would tell tales about killing bear for food. The meat would be stuffed into a jar, which was then placed in a running creek to keep cool until it was eaten.
Brooks drove fast cars hither and yon until he came to NACAR in 1969 at age 27. He did well enough, with 13 top-10 finishes in 54 races, to earn rookie of the year honors.
But it wasn’t so much his driving skill that drew folks’ attention. Brooks was, well, different.
 Forget the crew cut and T-shirt with the rolled up sleeves. Brooks had long, styled hair and a decent wardrobe – although that often gave way to bib overalls.
 He was good-looking, so much so that many figured that since he was from California, he was a product of Hollywood. Certainly he never lacked for female companionship.
Brooks was down-to-earth. He was quick to smile, had a terrific sense of humor and could make friends with just about everybody – including the media.
He was very accessible to the press. Brooks and several media guys became pals. They did things together, including attending horse races.
Brooks tried to compete regularly in his own cars but it wasn’t easy. By 1972, he entered only 14 of 31 races.
By 1973 Brooks was often looking for work. Then something happened just days before the Talladega 500 on Aug. 12.
Jimmy Crawford, an Eastern Airlines pilot, had entered his Plymouth in the race. But NASCAR determined that Crawford did not have enough superspeedway experience to tackle the massive 2.66-mile Talladega track.
Three days before the race Crawford struck a deal with Brooks, who was, obviously, available. Brooks would drive the Crawford Plymouth in the Talladega 500.
Brooks produced one of the biggest upsets ever in the history of what was then known as Alabama International Motor Speedway.
Unbelievably, he won the Talladega 500. It was a stunning triumph. Think of the scenario – a journeyman looking for a job gets a one-race break and whips ‘em all.
Brooks was triumphant in one of Talladega’s strangest, and most tragic, events.
A crash that didn’t look very serious took the life of 1972 Rookie of the Year Larry Smith.
Bobby Isaac, the 1970 champion, radioed car owner Bud Moore and told him to find a relief driver. Isaac came down pit road, exited Moore’s Ford and walked away.
A voice had told him to get out of the car.
“Something told me to quit,” Isaac said. “I didn’t know anything else to do but abide by it.”
Isaac never again got a competitive Winston Cup ride.
While Brooks’ victory might have given him the opportunity to get a competitive ride, that really never happened.
In 1975 he hooked up with owner Junie Donlavey’s middle-of-the road team. They remained fixtures at every race. If nothing else, Brooks had a regular job.
It seemed Donlavey, now a member of the National Motorsports Hall of Fame, and Brooks were liked by everyone. They were very popular.
Donlavey was so gracious and polite he was nicknamed “The Southern Gentleman.”
The outgoing Brooks was known by most as simply “Brooksie.”
Their union lasted until 1983. Brooks tried his hand elsewhere until 1984, when he and Donlavey reunited and promptly finished fifth in the Daytona 500.
It all came to an end after the 1985 season. While Donlavey continued to compete with other drivers for years afterward, Brooks called it quits after five events.
He didn’t leave racing, however. For many years he served as a pit reporter for MRN Radio, most often doing interviews from victory lane, where his signature phrase became, “There sure are a lot of happy people here.”
He also became a successful businessman who owned car dealerships. He never failed to hook up with, and entertain, old racing buddies.
But he had his problems. His wife left him. He was in a motorcycle wreck that left him severely physically and mentally debilitated for a long time.
As if that wasn’t enough, he suffered more complications from an airplane crash, which contributed to his premature death of pneumonia on Feb. 1, 2006. He was 63 years old.
Other than for his upset Talladega win Brooks’ name won’t be in the record books. He’ll never be remembered for his achievements on the track. Maybe, in time, he won’t be remembered at all.
That should not happen.
What should be known is that he was, now and forever, one of the true characters that added so much what was once the carefree spirit of NASCAR.