Racing is notorious for badass drivers, horrific wrecks, and flaring tempers. Nobody remembers handshakes after a race or a nice, calm talk between two racers. That’s not what passionate driving is about, right? It’s rubbing being confused with real racing, a tragic ending to someone’s life turning into a legacy.
Actually, it goes deeper than that. Way deeper. A son winning at the place that took his father’s life. Drivers winning in the memory of their grandmothers. The little brother, who is mentally challenged, watching his older brother win and feeling accomplished. Families have played a large part in developing NASCAR: the France family, the Earnhardts, Allisons, and Pettys. Where would we be without them? Somewhere completely different.
Family is important in any situation. I learned that the hard way.
Losing my grandmother wasn’t necessarily surprising; Marilyn had been sick for a long time, battling with many diseases and pulling through most of them. Even if she was growing older by the day, her spirit was always strong. She stayed on her toes with crossword puzzles and Bingo. Some days, all she wanted to do was sit by her window in the nursing home and watch the birds. Most of all, she was brash. If something was on her mind, it was said. She would tell you to shut up if you began to ramble, or if you were being too ungrateful. Marilyn was a spitfire, which is where I get my attitude and confidence from. No doubt she was a fighter, and that’s why she was around as long as she was.
When you hear someone in your family has died, people say you go numb. That’s what happened to me. I went numb to the core, falling to my knees and just letting it all go. I had never lost anyone before, and it hurt like Hell. My dad held me as I ran dry.
Nothing was right for those next four days leading up to the funeral. The car broke down, our bathroom sink rusted out, and nobody was in their right mind. Mom scrambled around to help with the arrangements, so she wasn’t close to being stable. My dad rushed to work everyday, not showing much feeling throughout. Caught in the middle, I went through the motions, running on no sleep: went to school and play practice, came home, did my homework, and ate. Being only fifteen, all I knew was that the entire world was crumbling in around us.
Marilyn could survive multiple marriages, car accidents, and losing a child. I knew there was a way to survive this.
We drove down that Wednesday morning, the 13th. Everyone was gathered, ready to put this strong woman to rest. My older brother and I stood together, my nails digging into his arm. People kept coming up to me, telling me how much I had grown since they last saw me. As soon as they walked away, I rolled my eyes; at that particular moment, I was emotionally at Square One, no progress made at all.
The preacher ruined the ceremony. He rode up on a Harley fifteen minutes late. When he began, my grandmother’s name was replaced with ‘Mary.’ The last line of The Lord’s Prayer was a jumbled mess. It was hard to take the man seriously until he read the obituary from the local paper. I guess that’s where it hit everyone that the moment was actually happening. I didn’t expect to feel so alone in a crowd of loving people.
I didn’t expect to grow up so quickly.
Everyone has that moment where they realize what really matters, and that was mine. Like breaking the surface after getting caught in an ocean’s current, a jolt went through me. Nothing else was more important that the people who cared and loved you. The ones who raised you and taught life lessons. They lay down the foundation, and you build from it. The least you can do is thank them for doing so.
I didn’t tell this story to make you feel sorry for me, or so I could get it off my chest. No, that’s not even close to the real reason.
Family made me gain courage and strength. Family made NASCAR possible. Without all those Pettys, Earnhardts, and Frances, what would be watching every Sunday? As you have noticed, many drivers are close with their parents, wives, children. When my mom sees drivers with their moms by their sides, she calls them a ‘Momma’s Boy.’ I think that’s the best title in the world, even greater than being given the nickname of ‘Champion.’
We race on a foundation made by those drivers who drove long ago. Their children run today, keeping their family name alive. That’s the real depth of racing.