Cagle: I still blame Ward Burton for what happened in 2002


I am going to be perfectly honest with y’all.

This year’s NASCAR season has been fairly boring. No real high drama. The racing has been better than 2015, but that has not translated into a whole lot of excitement. Sure there have been some moments, but through 22 Cup races, 21 Xfinity races and 12 Truck races, the season has been marked by some dominant performances, some fuel mileage wins and overall butt kicking by the Gibbs and Gibbs-affiliated crowd. Some racing is better than no racing, but I am just having trouble getting into it.

That being said, and so y’all won’t think I am just whining, I think the Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio last weekend was pretty cool. Racing in the rain is something I would like to see more of and I am a fan of road course racing in general. Of course, Bristol is this week and that is always good for a good time — despite the fact, as my friend Mike Neff pointed out, it is not the world’s fastest half mile.

So that is a 177-word avalanche that has buried my lede. Since the Sprint Cup Series had its last off weekend of 2016 last Sunday, I am going to tell a story. I have talked about this several times, but every so often I like to re-visit this story.

Back when I was a much younger man, I used to spend a lot more time at the racetrack than I do now. These days I keep a memento of all of that time in pits and garages of tracks, big and small. It is a somewhat dingy, faded yellow lug nut with the flat side scraped up pretty good.

I am the first to admit that I am clumsy and have had my fair share of bad luck/weird things happen to me. But this one is way up on the list.

Let me set the stage, the year was 2002. I was an intrepid young stringer for the Richmond County Daily Journal and was on the team covering the NASCAR. I got paid by the byline and needed to make a little bit of cash. So I was running around a bit getting pictures and finding story ideas and the like. Near the end of the race, I was on pit road during a caution period taking pictures of Mark Martin’s pit crew performing routine service on the No. 6 Ford Taurus. I was standing at one of the openings along pit road snapping away and, all of a sudden, something smacked me in the forehead just above my left eye. Dazed and muttering some choice words, it took me a few seconds before I realized what just happened. I looked down and found the culprit:

The aforementioned dingy, faded yellow lug nut. Not sure what to do with it, I picked it up and put it in my pocket.

The lug nut had come off of Martin’s right front tire and rolled into the path of Ford’s right rear tire. As Martin sped out of his pit, the right rear Goodyear spun over the lug nut putting it into flight. Luckily for everyone else on pit road, I caught it.

As intrepid young reporters are wont to do, I decided that making some extra money outweighed my immediate medical needs, so I went back to the media center to upload some photos and work on some stories and a column. Upon entering the building, I realized that my head was beginning to swell something fierce, I did what any rational person would do. I went to the drink cooler and grabbed an ice-cold Mountain Dew and put it on my forehead before finding my seat.

My seat happened to be right beside Marty Smith, now of ESPN fame. When he saw the Mountain Dew pressed against my head, he inquired about my peculiar behavior. Somewhat embarrassed, I flashed the lug nut and a look of astonishment came across his face and he said something about being his new hero (we still talk about it when we see each other). Not sure what happened next, but I remember being in the infield care center with Ward Burton some time later. It was Ward’s accident that led to the caution that led to the pit stop.

I still blame him.

After a quick once over by the doctor, I was deemed to have no permanent brain damage or other lasting malady, so I went back to work. I finished all my things and even got to talk to Martin about it after the race. He was genuinely surprised too that I was still on my feet and able to put coherent (ish) sentences together. I walked around for two weeks with a big ol’ bruised goose egg on my forehead; my shame for my total lack of situational awareness.

The lug nut now lives in my golf bag and I use it as a ball marker.

And as a reminder to watch for wayward, flying objects.

Andy Cagle, a former spokesman for Rockingham Speedway and motorsports public relations consultant, writes about NASCAR in a weekly column.

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By Andy Cagle

Contributing columnist

 

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