Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father’s Day Special For NASCAR Drivers

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers celebrate Father's Day at the track...
David Reutimann (Left) and father Buzzie (Right) at the track. (Photo: LAT Photographic)

When Mark Martin looks around the NASCAR garage each weekend and sees drivers such as Tony Stewart, Joey Logano and David Reutimann spending time with their dads, it touches his heart.

Martin still wishes he could do that.

"Obviously, I miss my dad enormously,” says Martin, whose father, Julian Martin, was killed in a 1998 plane crash.

“He was a big part of my racing and he was my biggest fan and quite a character. So I really, really miss him and it makes my heart warm when I see Ned Jarrett at the race track when Dale is there or I see Buzzie Reutimann at the race track on the weekend or I see Tony Stewart's dad or Tom Logano.

“I think that's really, really cool and I try to remind them because I know that they don't realize how special that is because it's happening. But I realize how special it is. And I wish I had more days like that myself. It's something that's really special.”

Father’s Day will have special meaning for most of NASCAR’s top stars Sunday at Infineon Raceway. Most of them began racing with help from their dads and many still bring their fathers with them to the track each week.

Other drivers have children that travel with them from track to track. And thanks to NASCAR’s latest baby boom, that number is quickly increasing. Carl Edwards, Elliott Sadler, Matt Kenseth and Casey Mears all have young children born in the last year while the wives of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are scheduled to give birth in the next two months.

“Father’s Day has never applied to me before, and I’ve also been thinking about my father a little more,” Edwards said. “Now that I’m a dad, I know I have a different respect for him – more respect for what he’s done.”

Joey Logano (Left) and father Tom Logano (Right) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage.
(Photo: LAT Photographic)

Three NASCAR dads – Jeff Burton, Michael Waltrip and Juan Pablo Montoya – will be honored by the National Fatherhood Initiative prior to Sunday’s race.

“Over the years, I have seen a lot more families at the race track. I’ve seen a lot more kids, and I think that is really cool,” Burton said.

“I think the main thing is spending time with your kids, whatever you are doing. NASCAR is obviously a great way to do that. It is an event. It is just not one thing going on. It is like going to a fair and a race and all kinds of stuff at the same time.

“I think experiencing stuff with your kids and exposing them to different things is an awesome way to get to know your kids and stay in touch with your kids.”

Jeff and Kim Burton have two kids, Paige and Harrison. And like the children of most NASCAR drivers, they have grown up around the race track.

“My kids have grown up with it and racing has been a big part of our life,” Burton said. “It has made me a better person – sometimes. Sometimes it makes me a worse person, but for the most part, it has made me a better person.

“I’ve learned a lot of life lessons in this sport and, hopefully, I have passed on to my children. I think spending time with your kids is the single most important thing you can do. Once you have made the decision to have children, it is the right thing to do.”

Jeff Gordon’s daughter, Ella, is with him at the track almost every week. But with another baby on the way, Gordon’s wife, Ingrid, and Ella won’t be here Sunday.

But Gordon’s dads will – both of them.

“It’s great to be out here for Father’s Day because typically I would be in Michigan and my father wouldn’t be at the track,” Gordon said. “I’ve got my stepfather and my father here this weekend which is cool.

“Father’s Day definitely takes on a whole new meaning when you are a father. This weekend, the focus for me is really going to be on my [dad and stepdad] that are here and are enjoying spending a race day together, and hopefully in victory lane with them.”

By Jeff Owens | |