NST: Knoxville Nationals - McMahan feature

McMahan remembers his racing roots KNOXVILLE, Iowa -- Regardless of how he finishes Saturday in the 46th annual Super Clean Knoxville Nationals, you can expect National Sprint Tour driver Paul McMahan to spend time with fans. Especially the ...

McMahan remembers his racing roots

KNOXVILLE, Iowa -- Regardless of how he finishes Saturday in the 46th annual Super Clean Knoxville Nationals, you can expect National Sprint Tour driver Paul McMahan to spend time with fans.

Especially the young fans.

That's because McMahan, who drives the Tony Stewart Motorsports #20 Bass Pro Shop car, remembers his past.

McMahan, now 35, remembers going up to drivers after races and asking for autographs as a child.

"I remember getting autographs and putting drivers up on pedestals," said McMahan, who starts Saturday's 30-lap main event 17th. "One driver didn't give me an autograph, and it really hurt me. I don't want to be like him."

McMahan raced quarter midgets as a child. He competed in the prestigious Grand Nationals four times, winning it in 1981 and finishing second twice. One of those runner-up finishes came in 1979, when he lost to Jeff Gordon.

"Twenty five years ago, I won the 1981 Grand Nationals," McMahan recalled. "It is the Knoxville Nationals for quarter midgets. When I was a kid, there was just the one race instead of the three they have now."

The 2006 Dirt Grand Nationals are taking place this week at Grays Harbor Mini Raceway in Elma, Wash. Arrangements were made for McMahan to be the main speaker for the event. McMahan's call over cell phone from Knoxville on Wednesday was broadcast over the track's PA system to the hundreds of racers and parents on hand.

"Parents are getting more serious now about their kids' sports," McMahan said. "I reminded them this is for the kids. It's about them having a good time, win or lose.

"It was kind of cool," he added. "My uncle was there, and people I raced against were there with their own kids. I appreciate them keeping the sport going."

McMahan has maintained friendships over the years with drivers like Gordon and Lonnie Rush Jr., both of whom he raced against growing up.

McMahan is constantly reminded of his start in racing.

"I have a flood of memories any day with racing," he said. "I remember my first Grand Nationals. There were 700 cars, with miles of trailers and motorhomes."

Speaking to quarter midget racers hit home for McMahan, whose 11-year-old son Brayden has been racing quarter midgets for three years.

"He's only done 10 races because we're on the road so much," McMahan said. "He'd rather go with me and watch me race than go to the track without me. That's our time together. We have more fun doing that. It almost brings a tear to my eye every time I push him off. I get a little choked up. It's the coolest feeling."

Another cool feeling for McMahan is winning, which dates back to his youth.

"I won a lot of races in quarter midgets," he said. "I want to win every race. That was my goal when I was 5 as well."

Fast forward to this weekend, and McMahan is looking forward to Saturday's big show.

"That's the biggest thing is we're in the A-main Saturday," McMahan said. "If you're 21st, it's worse than being 17th. I've got the team. I think a top-5 is realistic. Steve Kinser won it once from 14th. Strange things can happen.

"(Crew chief) Jimmy Carr has won here four times," McMahan added. "Anything can happen. You've got to have a little bit of luck."

Not only did McMahan share time to speak with young racers, he does other things as well.

"Some drivers think they don't need to take the time out," he said. "Anything I can do to help anyone, it's no skin off my back. I try to help everyone."

McMahan and wife Jan have been having silent auctions this week to benefit Tim Shaffer, and souvenir trailers have donation jars out for the late Fred Brownfield, who founded the NST.

"We're a big family," McMahan said. "That's what we do for each other. I was hurt here (at Knoxville ) a couple of years ago, and guys like Joey Saldana and Daryn Pittman put out boxes for me. We asked teams, both with the NST and World of Outlaws, if they had old parts to donate for the auction."

-credit: national sprint tour

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Series Sprint
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Tim Shaffer , Steve Kinser , Daryn Pittman , Joey Saldana , Paul McMahan