On Winning Some, Losing One, and an Unexpected Prize

Phew. It’s been a busy few weeks leading up to this past weekend’s Thunder Valley Nationals at my home track of Bristol Dragway, but before I recap it all for you, let me start at the very end first.

Things on track did not go as we had hoped or planned at Bristol. We had high hopes that this was the year we would earn that elusive win at home, but we didn’t make it past the first round. I’m disappointed. The whole team is disappointed. We wanted to do well in front of all our friends and family and hometown fans who have supported us through thick and thin for so many years.

We could never thank them enough for all for their love and support, but losing that first round of eliminations afforded us the chance to thank one fan in particular.

For years, every time I drove my Dodge through the water box for a run at Bristol, the team would look up in the stands from the line because they could hear one particularly LOUD fan cheering for us above everyone and everything else. And I mean EVERYTHING else including our HEMI engine. This year was no different. The mystery fan was there in the stands again this year, yelling at the top of her lungs for us on every run.

After Sunday’s first round loss, after taking a few minutes to digest the disappointment, after doing some interviews with the media to explain what happened, and after thanking our friends and family for coming and supporting us, Pam and I headed to the stands to meet and thank one more important person.

We came to find out that the mystery woman’s name is Darlene Dalton. Her reaction when I showed up in the stands to see her was absolutely priceless and instantly made everything better. There she was jumping up and down in her wheelchair and screaming at the top of her lungs. It even brought Pam to tears. If the other people in the stands didn’t know I was there, they sure did now.

Many of them have been hearing Darlene cheering for me and the Mopar team for years, and to see her finally meet me and how happy she was, made everyone’s day, especially mine. The whole stand erupted in applause. It was overwhelming.  It was an incredible experience and I feel truly blessed to have the support of such a lovely lady and such wonderful fans. We’ll keep working on trying to win that elusive Wally at home again next year, but for this year, Pam said it best, our prize was meeting Darlene Dalton. And when we do finally drive our Mopar into that winner’s circle at Bristol, Darlene will be there with us.

So what happened in the first round? When I left the starting line, the car was pretty decent in first gear and then it started chattering the left tire and pushing me over to the center line. I knew if I make a big correction I’d kill a lot of e.t. so I was trying to ease it back but never could get it to take hold. Then it made one big move and I was getting ready to relive Gainesville from a few years back if I had stayed in it. I thought, “You know what? There’s another race next week” and backed off. Disappointments like this will just make it that much sweeter when we do win our home race.

Leading up to the Bristol weekend, we had a lot going, on and off the race track.

On the race track, we’ve been making some really good progress with the new Dodge Dart over the last few weeks. Both Jeggie (Coughlin Jr.) and I have made some strides and it showed at Atlanta, Topeka and Englishtown where we combined for consecutive wins at all three events and the Magneti Marelli Dodge Dart was No.1 qualifier at Englishtown. Jeggie and I were tied for second going into Bristol and now we’re second and third in the standings. We’ve got to keep at it every week and we will. We’ve combined for five wins so far this year but we’ve got a few more to go in order to catch points leader, Erica (Enders-Stevens) to defend our championship titles the last two years.

Away from the track, it took a lot to get organized to host friends and family for Bristol but it was worth it. We wanted to make sure everyone knows how much we appreciate their support. Thanks to Doug Fezell and Professional Vending Services, we even had an ice cream maker parked in our pits this weekend as a treat for everyone. That thing was awesome. My dad Roy couldn’t get enough of watching how the one-horsepower engine worked to churn the ice cream. I’m pretty sure he was a fan of the ice cream too.

Earlier in the week, we had employees and friends take part in our Quick Stop Markets and Greenville Oil charity golf outing in support of the Greenville Community Ministries Food Bank, a charity that does a lot of good. We were able to raise almost 20 thousand dollars for them this year, the biggest year yet for our tournament. I also took part in Bristol’s Speedway Childrens Charity golf tournament that has the support of a lot of the local businesses. They raised three of four times that, so it was a great week helping the community and I even got to play some golf.

I’ve done quite a bit of flying this past month too. I’m in the final stages of getting my pilot’s license aboard a Cessna Skyhawk 172.  I’ve been working on it since about the first of this year. I do own my own twin engine Navajo plane and have a pilot to get us to where we need to go. I’ve been the co-pilot in that thing for three years but I wanted to get legal. I’ll continue to have a pilot when flying my family to races but I just want to be able to be official. I had my first solo flight in May and now have about six hours of solo flying time. I’ll be ready to take my written test soon, but I still have a few 150 mile cross-country trips to do before I take my flying test with a FAA instructor.

A few weeks ago I posted a fun photo of the plane on the Dragway at Rockingham where we were testing. I can’t take credit for that landing as it was actually my instructor who did that because I’d get in big trouble if I tried it.

For now, the only solo flying I’ll be doing is down the race track in the Dodge Dart. We’re now headed to Epping, New Hampshire to defend my win there last year in the inaugural event, then Chicago and Norwalk to complete this stretch of four races. Watch out because we’re going to get after it.