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COLUMN: Family Ties Champions Together

Drivers Share Moment In Spotlight With Their Biggest Supporters
By Travis Barrett, Special To
December 11, 2010 - 10:59pm
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's had the Frances, the Pearsons, the Earnhardts and the Labontes.

NASCAR has long been about family, something the sport worked hard to promote almost from its inception. In recent years, as the sport has boomed, it's no secret that NASCAR's traditional fan base felt a shift away from those values as things came more "corporate."

But if Saturday's Night of Champions Touring Series Awards Gala proved anything, it's that fans have little -- if anything at all -- to worry about going forward. NASCAR, and its future, are still all about family.

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Bobby Santos stood on the stage in the Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame with moist eyes as he thanked his mother and father for all their sacrifices over the years.

NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion Burt Myers said that, despite the pros and cons, he loved every minute of being raised "in a racing family."

NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Eric Holmes welcomed his oldest daughter to the banquet, pleased she had taken a more active interest in his racing career -- and then thanked NASCAR for a memorable Champion's Week before saying it had been several days since he'd seen his youngest daughter and couldn't wait to return home to California on Sunday to see her.

NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Ryan Truex, all of 18 years old and already a two-time series champion, couldn't help but needle his older brother -- Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. -- while clearly thanking him for blazing his trail through the NASCAR ranks.

2010_NASCAR_Touring_Series_Gala_Kennington_proposal_200And then there was NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington, who after 17 years of competition and an unprecedented nine runner-up finishes, carried two rings with him to the podium for his acceptance speech. He first displayed the NASCAR championship ring emblazoned with his name to commemorate his title season -- and then proceeded to steal the show by calling his girlfriend, Jamie, to the stage to join him.

That's when he pulled a second ring from the chest pocket of his tuxedo jacket, dropped to one knee and asked for her hand in marriage.

"Burt said the same thing, we take them all for granted for everything they do for us," Kennington said, echoing Myers’ belief that racing wives and girlfriends give up so much of themselves during the season. "We're not around much, because anytime there's a race, we're going to go to it.

“Then this year, she was so happy because her birthday was on a Wednesday. She's like, 'Man, you're actually going to be around.' Then Delaware Speedway, my local home track, brought in Kyle Busch for a Late Model race -- on Wednesday night. So, we didn't make it to her birthday dinner.

"NASCAR is a big family, so they say. So I kind of have a special presentation for my girlfriend. It's been a long time coming."

As the crowd gave them a standing ovation, Jamie said yes. And another NASCAR family began.

Yet another begins next weekend, too, as Holmes will also get married -- after initially rescheduling the original wedding date around (you guessed it) racing commitments.

"I promise you," Holmes told his fiancee, "that we WILL be married by this time one week from now."

It's confirmation that not only to racers value competition and excellence, such as they did on the Night of Champions, but that they equally value the important people in their lives who make it all possible.

For Myers, family not only got him started in Modified racing, but it also continues to provide the fuel for competitive fire.

"I race against my brother, so it's (hard)," Myers said of his brother, fellow Whelen Southern Modified Tour driver Jason Myers. "I want to beat him so bad on the track, you know, but I also want him to win more than anything. That's led to some, uh, confrontations."

Call it sibling rivalry.

Santos has a different kind of sibling rivalry. The only boy in a family with three sisters, Santos' sister Erica is widely accepted in racing circles as just as talented an open-wheel driver as her brother. Bobby Santos acknowledged everything that Erica has been through over the years while watching his career blossom.

"It seems like she's always taking a backseat to me," Santos said. "I just want to thank her for everything she's ever done for me. She's just awesome."

Truex, too, talked about his brother -- a Sprint Cup Series race winner. Like Ryan, Martin drives for Michael Waltrip Racing. It's a fact not lost on the youngest Truex.

"I wanted to go out and prove to (MWR) that I wasn't just there to try and attract my brother (to the organization)," Truex joked. "I know that's why they originally got me -- to try and get my brother over there. It worked. They got my brother -- but I got the championship, so I think I deserved it a little bit more than him."

Truex wasn't done with that. As he talked about his foray into the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2011 and sponsor NAPA's involvement with that endeavor, he gently reminded the NAPA folks that if they were ever done with Martin in the No. 56 at the Sprint Cup level, he'd gladly fill in.

If Truex's remarks proved anything, it's that having family involvement in racing careers is not only rewarding from a professional standpoint at the track, but it's also practically the most enjoyable way to participate in NASCAR.

Gary Myers joins sons Burt and Jason in preparing race cars every week for NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing at Bowman Gray Stadium. Kennington's father, Doug, is the owner and engine builder for his Canadian Tire Series championship cars. Santos' father worked diligently from the time Bobby was young to try and find him available rides everywhere from Supermodifieds in New Hampshire to sprint and midget cars in the Midwest.

Regional tours and weekly short tracks boast the names of Myers and Truex, and hundreds of others across the nation, Mexico and Canada. Someday, it was pointed out by NASCAR president Mike Helton Saturday, those names could be the ones that become synonymous with the sport the way Waltrip or Petty has.

When it comes to NASCAR racing, it remains all about family.


The 2010 Most Popular Driver Award winners, as voted by the fans, were (from left) Burt Myers of the Whelen Southern Modified Tour, Ted Christopher of the Whelen Modified Tour, Moses Smith of the K&N Pro Series West and Ryan Truex of the K&N Pro Series East. Andrew Ranger of the Canadian Tire Series and Jorge Arteaga of the Mexico Series also earned the honor. Getty Images