John Nemechek remembered

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MNI would like to thank Holly Cain and The Tampa Tribune for the following: 3/22/97 -- 1:40 AM Tragedy for Nemechek's family really hits home Column by HOLLY CAIN of The Tampa Tribune This hits home. The hardest thing for an auto ...

MNI would like to thank Holly Cain and The Tampa Tribune for the following:

3/22/97 -- 1:40 AM

Tragedy for Nemechek's family really hits home Column by HOLLY CAIN of The Tampa Tribune

This hits home.

The hardest thing for an auto racing reporter is having to write about the death of a driver. When you share the same hometown, detailed his career as the ``hometown'' driver, gotten to know his family, have mutual friends from high school - that's another story.

So this is anything but just another story.

Lakeland's John Nemechek, 27, died Friday morning of injuries sustained in an accident during Sunday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Race. His loving and extended family was at his bedside in Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital and that's how it had to be. Racing is a Nemechek family affair and support is the family way.

John's older brother, Joe, competes in the Winston Cup Series - although he's withdrawn from Sunday's race at Darlington, S.C. His sister, Marti, is married to a driver, Lakeland's George Crenshaw. Father Joe Sr. - a successful entrepreneur - has financed the kids' racing efforts and the oldest child, Mark, now runs the family business.

And mom Martha is the team leader/cheerleader/race scorer/public relations specialist. More proud of her children, a mother couldn't be. She has specially made T-shirts that read ``Joe Nemechek's Mom'' and ``John Nemechek's Mom'' -ready to switch out in a single afternoon.

Not long ago Martha mailed me two framed pictures she had taken of John and me during a 1995 interview at Homestead. I thanked her, but wondered why two. She said, `John wants you to sign one to him.' ''

That's how John was - always grateful for an article and often likely to send a thank you note to the writer. He was always available by phone or at the track. Bad race or good race. And as his success in one of NASCAR's most competitive series showed, there were more good races than bad.

He finished 13th in the 1996 truck series season standings and that's even with a family owned and financed effort running against the big bucks of factory-supported teams.

It might have been a disadvantage but you'd never know it from John. It just made his success that much more satisfying. He was always upbeat and that's what so many admired in him. He made friends easily and never turned down an autographer seeker. He'd just roll out from under his race truck, oil smudges on his face, dirty hands and everything.

And even as Joe zoomed up the NASCAR ranks, John didn't feel overshadowed by his big - or rather older - brother's success. John was his biggest cheerleader. And vice versa. John worked on Joe's team during his 1992 Busch Grand National championship season. And Joe was prone to negotiating with his sponsor to let John carry its logo for a race or two.

Of course, the Nemecheks know the dangers of their chosen profession, but that doesn't make this reality any less tragic. It just forces us to stop today and recognize John's accomplishments, appreciate his life. And maybe take the time to give our loved ones an extra hug or smile.

John Nemechek will be missed by so many. As much for the person he was off the track as for the competitor he was on the track.

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Series NASCAR-TRUCK