Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 17, 2018, 1:44 p.m.
From 1993 through 2012, my home away from home was the NASCAR circuit. As the Daytona 500 thunders up on the horizon, it occurred to me that you might enjoy a few funny tales from those two decades of modern gypsiness.
On the NASCAR Media Tour, which used to lend itself more to gypsiness because the gypsies rode to many shops in buses, a unique visit was to Dale Earnhardt Inc., where most of the presentations were usually planned in advance and there were few opportunities for access to the principals that were anywhere close to, uh, close and and personal.
One year, the message circulated that Teresa Earnhardt, the enigmatic and mysterious queen of the palatial manor, would circulate among us. Sure enough, the Intimidator’s widow walked from table to table. The photo above shows yours truly, Jim Pedley of the Kansas City Star, and David Poole of the Charlotte Observer, warily observing Mrs. Earnhardt’s approach.
She walked up and asked me how the food was. I said, “Fine.”
This was the entirety of our media access.
Another time, on the Media Day at Daytona International Speedway that was a bit redundant given that the Media Tour had already occurred, a P.R. rep of Mrs. Earnhardt approached me breathlessly.
“In a few moments,” she said, whispering like unto a golf announcer, “Teresa Earnhardt will be here to make a very, very special announcement.”
She came close to panting and seemed to anticipate that I would hyperventilate.
“Here’s my guess, ma’am,” I said. “Mrs. Earnhardt will not be entertaining questions.”
“Just run along now,” I said.
Poole, whose loss I mourn more than Dale Earnhardt’s, was famously combustible, but he could lower his voice on occasion and do a fair imitation of a loving God. Once Tony Stewart, who from time to time became rankled at having to deal with the media, was ranting about how, when he came to NASCAR, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
Poole listened patiently and then said, “Now, Tony, you can go back to those dirt tracks you love and spend the rest of your life racing there, but with all this wealth and power comes a certain responsibility.”
Tony, whose company I nonetheless enjoyed, was fond of beginning the answer to a question by asking, “To be honest?”
“No,” I said, “I’d prefer that you lie out of your ass any time anybody asks any question.”
That got a double-take, and a flash of his brown eyes turning black as coal, and then a grudging recognition that I had a valid point.
In May of last year, I returned to a NASCAR track for the first time in more than five years. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, paid a visit to the Charlotte Motor Speedway press box. I saw him when I went to refill my coffee cup, and he said, “It’s great to see you.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but don’t lie.”
He couldn’t keep a straight face. His laughter served the purpose of conceding the point.
From time to time, I’ll devote one of these blogs to yarns that demonstrate how much fun it can be to write about NASCAR for a living. Stay tuned.
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