What’s it like to be a NASCAR Champion? Let’s back up a little bit first. I remember sitting at my PC a few years ago and watching as Richard Towler walked onto the stage at Homestead Miami to receive his NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship check of $10,000. Then, watching him walk into the media center with Dale Earnhardt Jr, sit next to him, and answer questions from the media. In my gut I had envy. I wanted to be that guy. I always dreamed growing up of making it in the sport of NASCAR. Ever since I was a kid that was all I had ever wanted in life more than anything. It made other challenges in life, like school, especially hard because I couldn’t think about anything else. I am the type of person who, when I get something in my head, nothing else matters. Literally. It consumes every thought, every day dream, every action. You’re drawn to friends who are racing fans. So in school all we talked was racing. My senior project in 2004 was on the advances of NASCAR Safety (haha). So you get the point. It is all I wanted.
Seeing Towler win that first NASCAR iRacing championship sparked something in me. I knew one day it would be me. There was doubt along the way; sure, there were tons of trials, but deep down in my heart I knew it was going to happen. This was my time. That feeling is the same feeling, in my opinion, that controls the direction of your life. It’s the feeling it takes to leap out of an airplane, or drive 200mph into a corner, but in greater and greater measure. It is also the same reason I turn red and steam boils out my ears as I am sim-racing and watching cars pull away. The “Kyle Busch” reaction of we finished second and I am so mad I could spit nails right now! It is the highest measure of that emotion that you can imagine. I am a very fortunate person in life. I have an awesome life, with my own business, a trophy wife who is 20x out of my league and loves me with all her heart; great family who love me and love each other. Anything I have ever put my mind to, I have done it — even when it seemed impossible. This feeling, this emotion, it creates miracles. It is an amazing power that has given me everything I have in life.
I remember watching a show at the end of 2012 when Brad Keselowski won the Championship. The script “Hall of Fame” came on as he was walking onto the stage. You can be the greatest, you can be the best, you can be the King Kong beating on your chest. Standing in the hall of fame, and the world’s gonna know your name.
This was the final turning point for me. Seeing Brad, who was this ordinary racer being crowned champion, and hearing those words did something to me. Right then, right there, I couldn’t take it anymore. Every time I needed motivation, I thought of those words, that song, and seeing Brad walk onto the championship stage. The chase for greatness was burning so hard inside of me. Even when I wanted to give up this season, God put people in place to remind me of that burn inside. How it was meant to be, and it was going to happen. It didn’t seem to matter how wrong part of my season went, or how bad the odds looked. I feel like God was laughing at me, saying You think I can’t handle this?? I am God, creator of all. This is nothing. Miracles happened, literally. Things that weren’t supposed to happen happened. Like missing a race and coming from 60+ points behind in five races. It was simply destiny and there was nothing I could do about it.
“There was doubt along the way; sure, there were tons of trials, but deep down in my heart I knew it was going to happen. This was my time.”
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s move on to what being NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Champion actually includes!! I tell you what: the guys at iRacing couldn’t be a nicer group. We are so blessed to be able to call iRacing our sim-racing home. My wife traveled with me for all of the championship tour. So when I refer to “we” it will be her and I. We took these journeys really with no expectations or pre-notions on what was going to happen. We were blind-sided; we literally took every moment as it came.
We flew down to Homestead and honestly I was nervous. We were sitting in the baggage claim waiting for Otto Szebeni and Steve Myers to pick us up. As we discussed, I wonder what they’re gonna be like? Probably grumpy old computer nerds . … You start to wonder if they’ll like you, if they’ll get your humor. I don’t talk much so I wondered if that would be a problem. All the non-important thoughts run through your head, but as champion, you want everyone to be a fan and like you!
Quickly we hit it off with those two guys. They were a total joy to be around and some of the most memorable and fun times on the entire trip were riding in the rental car with Steve and Otto. For a couple of days after we got back home, Lisa and I would mention we missed those guys! haha They went out of their way the entire Homestead trip, to make us feel like champions and to make whatever we wanted, a reality. You want to meet your favorite driver Jamie McMurray? Not a problem. We got to meet a bunch of drivers, such as Martin Truex Jr, Denny Hamlin (event winner), Joey Logano. And meeting all of these guys, it wasn’t your typical I am a fanboy and want an autograph please. They were told of my championship and, being mostly sim-racers themselves, they would talk to us as like a fellow competitor. It was really neat and fun. They were all beyond nice as well. If you’re like me, you have it made up in your head that certain drivers are certain ways. But I was completely wrong. They were beyond nice.
Along with drivers, we were able to meet the legends of our sport. Meeting Mike Helton was everything I had imagined. A quiet, Hi, how are you was about all you were getting out of him, which was totally fine with me because it was intimidating standing next to that guy, having to look-up 10ft to look him in the eye. I was almost as eager to say Thanks and Bye as I was to say Hello.
In between meeting drivers and big shots, Otto and Steve were lining-up interviews. We’d go meet Truex, then rush over to the media center and do an MRN Radio interview. Go back and and mingle some more in the garage, then rush back over to do a Sirius XM radio interview . . . which, by the way, was the coolest interview of the trip, in my opinion. I am a huge fan of the XM NASCAR Channel. I listen daily, as my job has me driving in a truck all day. Hey, what is better than listening to people talk NASCAR? Anyway, it was a big deal. I can honestly say I was never nervous this entire trip until the interview with Claire B Lange during the Nationwide pre-race show. I remember sitting there waiting for my time and watching her flip through papers and talk to producers in total chaos. I always thought those guys had it together and the show was nice and smooth and one’s heart rate never reaches over 60 beats per min. Boy was I wrong. Total chaos to get things done and at the right time, but that is why they are professionals. You would never know it. Truly, classy and genuinely nice people.
As if all of that wasn’t cool enough, we were able to go onto the stage in front of tens of thousands of people and collect the championship check and ring during the Sprint Cup pre-race driver intros. As we stood there waiting to go on stage a video popped-up on Sprint vision and the scoring tower of my car. My car. My stats. My name. What a surreal feeling. As that was happening, they started talking about me on the public address system, saying my name and all I could do was smile, and think back to that moment one year ago when I watched Brad Keselowski walk onto stage, and hearing the words You can be the greatest, you can be the best…
“As we stood there waiting to go on stage a video popped-up on Sprint vision and the scoring tower of my car. My car. My stats. My name.”
For both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup race, we were able to relax in the air conditioning high atop Turn 1 in the NASCAR Guest Suites. Air conditioning was enough for me! We were spent from all the anticipation-activity-excitement, and I was just thrilled to have A/C. But no, that wasn’t all. People were in there to bring you drinks, take orders, food – all kinds of food — and desert. It was like a gourmet restaurant above the race track with a bird’s eye view. Totally cool, and again, everyone was beyond nice. It was actually kind of odd how nice everyone was. I felt like a true champion.
Pretty cool huh? Well, for the first year in the history of our beloved series, this year’s champion was ALSO invited to Charlotte, NC to attend the NASCAR Night of Champions banquet as well as NASCAR Media Day at the Hall of Fame.
Once again, we didn’t know what to expect. We went into the entire week blind with no idea what was going to happen. All we knew is we had to be at the Hall of Fame at a certain time. So we arrive at the HoF and they have us setup at a table in the middle of the building with all eight champions for NASCAR’s touring series. That’s right: we were sitting there WITH them as champion, signing autographs and mingling amongst ourselves as NASCAR champions. I was part of them. I was a NASCAR champion as well, and they viewed me as such. What an amazing feeling that was. And a dream come true.
We spent a majority of the day at the simulators, racing fans and other iRacers. It was so cool to meet in-person and race in-person friends I’ve known online for awhile, along with iRacing personnel I’ve always known and talked with, but had never had the privilege to race: Tony Gardner, Shannon Whitmore, Jeff Addison . . . at one point we even got to meet Eric Hudec. The only one left out was Nim Cross, which could possibly be a good thing because if he had been there during some of those simulator racers a majority of us would have been parked, suspended for at least a week, and told to go home!
Racing at the Hall of Fame ended with one last champions race. All the champions from around the world competed in a simulated race at Charlotte in the Gen 6 car. Some knucklehead decided that since I was the iRacing champion, I needed to start last — which was completely unfair because now I had to dodge carnage, and win, in roughly six minutes. The competitor in me was mad, but I knew it was all in good fun and I was happy to be there racing those guys. But still, it wasn’t fair. HaHa. Yeah, needless to say I didn’t win, but let’s not dwell on that too much! Ha! It was great fun. I love racing on iRacing, so spending all day racing at the Hall of Fame with other champions couldn’t get much better. That’s like a day in paradise.
“I was standing in the Hall of Fame, as a 2013 NASCAR Champion.”
North Carolina has a lot of cool karting places, so in between the Hall of Fame Battle of Champions and the banquet the following Saturday night, we spent most of our time at Victory Lane Karting and GoPro Motorplex. This isn’t your family karting. These things are the real deal, that’ll leave you sore the next morning after 10 minutes!! Trust me. At both venues we had a bunch of fellow iRacers to compete with us and it was a total blast.
Probably the most memorable race to me was a small 10 minute race between Justin Bolton, Byron Daley, Bryan Blackford, and myself. The entire race, we were passing and rubbin’ for the lead as one pack. Kind of like the Sirius XM deal: Total chaos, but complete control at the same time. You couldn’t ask for a better time. The GoPro Motorsplex is so large and fast that you can actually hear the RPMS go up when you get in the draft down the long straightaways.
Anyway, all during the entire race we are swapping back and forth, bangin’ doors, three and four wide. Coming out of the last corner I was second, Blackford I believe was in first, and I got a run. He went low to block coming to the checkered flag so I went high, and I look over and the guy behind me had gotten under him. So here we are three wide coming to the checkered. I started bouncin’ forward in my seat trying to get a little extra push and we crossed the line three wide. You couldn’t wipe the smile off our faces. You’d think we had just raced in the Daytona 500. Who won? That depends on who you talk to! I think I won, but if you ask each of them they both think they won. We still don’t know . . . but it was me.
To end the 2013 championship campaign we were once again at the Hall of Fame Convention Center for the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Series. This was exactly like the Sprint Cup banquets you see on TV, only this was streamed live rather than on TV. I am a pretty quiet person, and shy – until you stick me in my element such as racing or motorsports. Then, something inside me comes alive and it’s like I have no fear. A complete 360 of how I am normally in the real world. Ask anyone who knows me. I don’t talk much. I’m reserved and quiet, shy.
So I am told 30 minutes into the show I will be on center stage answering questions from the co-host. Being in my element – racing — I thought No big deal. I got this.
My wife was shaking, she was so nervous. I was calm and cool though. And then they put me on stage. In front of thousands. Bright lights, people everywhere . . . and my hands began to shake. The host was asking me small talk questions while we waited for our cue to talk and I can’t remember a thing she said. I don’t even think I responded to her. I was a complete nervous DISASTER!
Right before it was our chance to talk though, once again in my head a song played. I had never put together until this moment the magnitude of the lyrics, and how true it had all become. It was at this moment it all sank in: I was indeed, a NASCAR Champion. Not a video game champion or a simulator champion. A NASCAR Champion. A legit, NASCAR Champion. The words once again that I heard were, You can be the greatest, you can be the best, you can be the King Kong beating on your chest. Standing in the Hall of Fame, and the world’s gonna know your name.”
Here I was, a year later playing those words in my head, and I was indeed the greatest of 2013, I was the best of 2013. I was indeed standing in the Hall of Fame, and in just a couple of seconds, the world’s gonna know my name.
Such a surreal feeling, and as they gave us the go and the spotlight was put on us, I answered the questions as if it was second nature. All my worry and fright was for not. I don’t even remember how I answered or what I said. I was just in the zone and God had taken over. I was in my element, where I belonged. In that moment in time, everything my entire life I had dreamed of and put forth was coming to fruition. It was destiny. It was meant to be. I was standing in the Hall of Fame, as a 2013 NASCAR Champion.