Posted: Friday June 16, 2006 9:13AM; Updated: Friday June 16, 2006 3:12PM
After attending their first race at Dover, known as the Monster Mile, the author's daughters became NASCAR fans.
By Richard O'Brien, SI.com
It is exactly 5:01 a.m. on a quiet, cool June Saturday morning and I am behind the wheel of the family car in the driveway beside the house. In the seat next to me is my 16-year-old daughter, Valentina. She is a) awake, b) smiling and c) saying, "All right, Dad. Let's go!"
Now, any father of a teenage daughter will likely goggle in disbelief at such a scenario. Five-oh-one? In the morning? And she's not only awake but also demonstrably happy to be with you? (Not a single "What-ev-er" to be heard?) Surely, you are thinking, the explanation must lie in some combination of total credit card access and an early opening at the mall. But in fact the explanation for this rare pre-dawn father-daughter bonding moment lies in something far richer and strange -- far more American, even -- than a shopping spree. The explanation lies in NASCAR.
Valentina and I are off for a weekend of racing action at Dover International Speedway. It's an hour-and-a-half drive from our house in central New Jersey to the high-banked one-mile track known as the Monster Mile, and neither of us can wait to get going.
I guess I can say it. I'm a NASCAR dad.
How did it come to this? How does a guy living in Princeton, N.J. -- where, let's face it, the dinner-party conversation seldom centers on the pros and cons of restrictor-plate racing -- end up driving off into the morning darkness gabbing happily with his teenage daughter about Kyle Busch's chances of making the Chase for the Nextel Cup?
Growing up, I was as crazy about cars as the next kid. I watched the Indy 500 on TV, pretended I was Steve McQueen, but I sure didn't follow NASCAR, and we never went to any races. My dad took me to baseball games. Our bond was over the St. Louis Cardinals. I still have a jar full of dirt, scooped from the infield after the last game at Busch Stadium -- the old Busch Stadium. A framed black-and-white photograph hangs over my desk: my father standing beside Stan Musial. Classic Field of Dreams stuff, right?
So I grew up and had kids, two redheaded daughters. Not that daughters can't love baseball, or all sports for that matter. But for whatever reason, neither Valentina nor Daisy -- older by 4˝ years -- ever really got into sports, not with that real passion. Sure, I coached their youth soccer and softball teams and, later, they both played field hockey and lacrosse for a while. And, with a dad who worked for Sports Illustrated, they got to go to some games and could always drop a name or two to impress the boys at school. But they really weren't that interested in what I was actually covering. They knew the Olympics meant I was gone for a long time but came back with cool souvenirs. But they weren't exactly memorizing 100-meter times. Certainly, when I was on the baseball beat, neither one was poring over box scores with me. When I covered boxing, they mostly just said "Ewww."