Competitors reflect on Mother's Day

Mother's Day a time to reflect and remember for NASCAR competitors. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 7, 2002) - For NASCAR competitors, Mother's Day is a traditional opportunity to rest and reflect. To take a deserved respite from demanding seasons...

Mother's Day a time to reflect and remember for NASCAR competitors.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 7, 2002) - For NASCAR competitors, Mother's Day is a traditional opportunity to rest and reflect.

To take a deserved respite from demanding seasons and - perhaps more important - to consider and thank the mothers whose support and encouragement have been key ingredients in the careers of their sons and daughters.

Observes Mike Helton, NASCAR President:"Even while the world we live in is changing, I think most Americans have a great reverence about mothers and the special meaning to us all. Even though I may not be able to spend the day with my mother (Kathryn), you can bet she'll be receiving a phone call from me."

Defending and four-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet) also has his Mother's Day plans nailed down.

"Call mom (Carol), send her some flowers, take her out to lunch or dinner," Gordon said."My mom, she's very understanding, knows I've been traveling and racing for a long, long time, but she also knows how much I love her and care about her and that I'm always thinking about her, especially on Mother's Day. So I've got to get a good card and some flowers. Got to take care of mom."

NASCAR prides itself on being a family sport. From the NASCAR Winston Cup Series to the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Presented by Dodge, many mothers cheer on their sons and daughters - from a seat in the grandstands or behind pit road and from television and radio accounts of their heroics.

"I remember growing up going to watch my dad race at Danbury (Conn.) with my mom (Kathleen) and she always had Rosary beads in her hands while he raced," said Randy LaJoie (No. 7 Kleenex/Nortel Networks Chevrolet), the 1996 and' 97 NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division champion."I can't imagine what it must have been like for her watching her husband race and, then, when I came up and started racing with him.

"She probably had two sets of Rosary beads and they were probably sparking going through her hands. She's been a tremendous supporter all these years and I couldn't have done it without her."

Jeff Burton is among the most respected competitors in both NASCAR Winston Cup and NASCAR Busch Series garages. Burton, from South Boston, Va., credits his mother, Meredith Bowman, and the attributes she instilled in him while growing up.

"She's always tried hard, and she still does today, to teach her children to do the right thing," says Burton, who splits his time between Roush Racing's No. 99 CITGO Ford and No. 9 Gain-Febreeze-Swiffer Ford."If you mess up, she's the first one to tell you. She has a great sense of civic responsibility."

Jay Sauter, one of 11 children of the late Penny Sauter, remembers his mother in the same manner as Burton. His father, Jim Sauter, frequently was absent as he competed on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit and elsewhere.

"My mother was the glue that held the family together," said Sauter, who drives the No. 21 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series."Raising 11 children is no easy task. With dad racing every weekend, she taught us all how to work really hard and treat other people.

"Those lessons have been carried through me and my brothers even to this day."

Mother's Day also is bittersweet for Mike Skinner (No. 4 Kodak Chevrolet), whose mother, Frankie, passed away several years ago.

"My mother was my best friend [so] Mother's Day is very hard on me," Skinner said."She helped me in racing. She was not rich so she could not offer financial assistance to fuel my career. She did everything else, though - hunted sponsor money and did public relations work.

"In about 1993, right when all the years of hard work were about to pay off, I lost her to cancer."

Skinner, however, is close to his wife's mother, Angela."We usually take her out to eat and spend quality time with her," he adds.

Skinner's car owner, Larry McClure, says it's" great to have one weekend a year fully devoted to mothers. I'm really glad NASCAR recognizes the importance of this and clears this weekend on our schedules."

And, yes, McClure will spend the afternoon with his mother, Hettie, 81, in Abingdon, Va.

Randy MacDonald, a native of Canada now living in Thomasville, N.C., doesn't need to look very far to see his mother, Pat, throughout the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Pat MacDonald is MacDonald Motorsports' key administrator - manning the phones in the office, running the day-to-day operations and handling paperwork and finances. At the track and on the road, she is team scorer, cook and travel agent.

"Without my mother doing all she does, I wouldn't know which plane to get on, what rental car to drive off the lot and what hotel we are staying in," said MacDonald whose sister, Teri MacDonald-Cadieux, is expected to make her NASCAR Craftsman Truck debut next month.

"I want to be there when my kids are involved on the track, although sometimes it's overwhelming," said Pat MacDonald, whose husband, Marrill, owns the team's No. 72 Greenfield Truck Center Chevrolets."I'm honored by their trust and humbled by it also."

It's also a family affair for Judy Benson, mother of Johnny Benson (No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac). She's been a racing wife to husband John since 1956 and racing mother to her son for more than 20 years.

"I go to about 10 races a year (and) most of the time friends and I sit in the stands," she said."Do I cheer? Well, yes. At Bristol this year when he was running second in the final laps, I was screaming like it was a Saturday night short track. I think everyone sitting anywhere near us knew that I was his mother."

Does Judy Benson sometimes wish husband and son had chosen another sport? Never."I don't know anything about other sports," she said."We are a racing family."

A variety of emotional swings are seen in athletic competition - and nowhere more often than in NASCAR racing. Jason Keller (No. 57 Albertsons Ford), current NASCAR Busch Series championship leader, agrees that's true.

"When things are not going well, one hug from her (Diane) can change the world," Keller said."She keeps my emotions in check."

Veteran Ted Musgrave, whose mother Arlene joined him in victory circle last June when his No. 1 Mopar Performance Parts Dodge won the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at The Milwaukee Mile, recalls one instance when - as a child - his mother literally outran the law to run parts for his father, the late Elmer Musgrave.

The elder Musgrave was running a U.S. Auto Club stock car event in Milwaukee and needed brake shoes. Mrs. Musgrave piled her three children in the car and headed for Indianapolis at a speed frowned upon by the state patrol. After a few minutes, Arlene got pulled over by a trooper.

"Me and my brother and my sister thought that was the neatest thing that we had this police car following us and pulling us over, so we kind of started antagonizing her," Musgrave remembers."We must have been going pretty fast, because I know she got a ticket.

"It was just kind of funny because back then it was a family deal for us and everyone did their share to help out. It was a family operation. My mom helped out quite a bit."

Brendan Gaughan, two-time NASCAR Winston West Series champion and current Raybestos Rookie on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, is another second-generation competitor. His father, Michael, owner of the No. 62 NAPA Auto Parts Dodge, competed in off-road racing in addition to operating several Las Vegas hotel complexes.

Gaughan's mother Paula, who operates the family ranches and competes in cutting-horse exhibitions, is a strong-willed individual - particularly when it comes to her son.

"In fact," said Gaughan, a former Georgetown University basketball player,"when she found out Darlington was tape-delayed, she decided the next best thing would be to install (XM) satellite radio in her [18-wheeler]. Heading for the dealership where the truck was in for servicing, she explained she needed the radio installed. The dealership tried to say they couldn't get it done in time but she simply wasn't buying it.

"She was going to listen to the race and she won. The [18-wheeler] was serviced and her radio was installed."

While the stories may be different and memories varied, there is a common thread for these and other NASCAR competitors. A mother's love, faith and guidance have been essential to the success they've enjoyed and the character each has acquired.

"For a lot of us that grew up in racing homes, certainly our mothers were kind of a key figure there because our dads were gone a lot," said former NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford), who father Ned also is a former champion."I think it's very appropriate it's one of the weekends we have off and allows us to spend time with our families."

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Jeff Burton , Dale Jarrett , Jason Keller , Mike Skinner , Jay Sauter , Ted Musgrave , Brendan Gaughan , Mike Helton