With long history in sport, Childress ready for Friday's Hall of Fame induction
RELATED: Mark Martin on what drove him to success Richard Childress will go into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday night with perhaps a bit more of an appreciation than most, having spent the better part of his life tied snugly to the sport of stock car racing. It's been his livelihood and his lifeblood. From selling snacks as a youngster in the grandstands at a local track to overseeing a racing organization today that boasts more than 500 employees, Childress is one of the few still around that has seen and done it all. Childress, 71, will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday along with fellow team owners Rick Hendrick and Raymond Parks and former drivers Mark Martin and Benny Parsons (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Incredible stories shadow each of this year's inductees. The story of Childress' rise from dropout to multi-millionaire is no less so. Today, his Richard Childress Racing organization fields three full-time teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and three in the NASCAR XFINITY Series . His teams have won 12 championships and 214 races across NASCAR's three national series (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck). Six of his championships came with driver Dale Earnhardt, an inaugural member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and regarded by many as one of the sport's most talented and influential drivers. "I'm sure every one of the inductees are very proud," Childress said last week during a round of media availabilities for this year's Hall of Fame Class. "My feeling is, I started out selling peanuts and popcorn at Bowman-Gray Stadium watching my heroes, Billy and Bobby Myers, Curtis Turner and Glen Wood, these guys race and that's all I ever wanted to do was become a race driver." He worked full time to live his dream part-time until the pull of the racing won out and for the longest time it looked like a fool's errand. Money didn't flow and bills piled up but like everyone else chasing a dream, Childress was undeterred. At 24, he got his first big break, competing at Talladega Superspeedway after many of NASCAR's top stars, citing tire concerns, boycotted the race. He returned home to purchase a small parcel of land with the money he earned from that weekend's races, and started his own auto repair business. "I left there with more money than I'd ever seen at one time," he said. Being his own boss also kept his NASCAR dream alive. He jumped in full time in 1976 as an owner/driver at a time when only a handful of teams had the support and the finances to contend for wins on a consistent basis. "I can remember the days when we had to syphon the fuel out of the race car to get home, put it in the tow car," Childress said. "A lot of people don't understand how it was back in the early '70s … what not just me but everyone was going through. You had the Pettys, Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, there were about four big teams … those were the guys you were racing against." His second big break came in the early '80s when he made the decision to focus on ownership and leave the driving to someone else. Earnhardt came and went, driving a handful of races at the end of the '81 season. A two-year stint with Ricky Rudd helped the team turn the corner and build the consistency necessary to compete for wins on a regular basis. By '84, Earnhardt had returned and RCR had improved its product tremendously. "Ricky was a young, up and coming driver and I think we both helped each other a lot," Childress said. "He helped me as a car owner and I think we helped him as a driver, with the past driving experience I had and as an owner being able to work with a driver was totally different. I think it was a learning experience for all of us. "When Dale came back in '84 I was much more comfortable as an owner at that point." It's been three years since a driver for RCR won in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series although all three of its current drivers -- Austin Dillon , Paul Menard and Ryan Newman -- have qualified for the Chase on one or more occasions. Childress, winless as a driver in 285 career starts, remains positive and focused. No different than when he was just starting out with little more than a dream and a desire. "You had to have a passion," he said. "Even when I was driving and wasn't winning … I never started a race that I didn't think this was going to be the day that the big boys had a problem and I was going to be able to come in there and win. "Just the sheer drive of wanting to succeed, that's what kept me going." And it's led him right into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Determination, focus drive Martin to Hall of Fame
RELATED: Learn more about the Class of 2017 " Martin's top moments Mark Martin is respected and revered for a 31-year NASCAR racing career that includes 40 Cup victories, 49 XFINITY wins and five heralded IROC championships. He is considered one of the most talented, highly focused and broadly successful competitors in NASCAR history. And later this week, Martin will formally acquire a designation that makes him most proud of all: NASCAR Hall of Famer. "When I'm introduced at a function, now people can call me something, I'll have a title," Martin, 58, said this week with a laugh. "Prior to that, you kind of had to search for a title, although I had done a lot of cool and amazing things in my career." His long list of "cool and amazing things" is what earned Martin this highest of honors. He joins Benny Parsons, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Raymond Parks in this year’s Hall of Fame class and will be formally inducted Friday in Charlotte (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). RELATED: Parks set early standard " Prolonged excellence Childress' hallmark For Martin, it is a story of supreme determination and talent. In addition to his 40 wins and five championship runner-up finishes in NASCAR's highest level, Martin proved to be one of the series’ most diverse competitors -- ever. He won four GT class championships competing in the Rolex 24 during the 1990s. And his five IROC titles -- and four more runner-up IROC championship finishes -- showed Martin’s great ability bettering the best drivers across all forms of racing from NASCAR to IndyCar to sports cars to sprint cars. It is certainly something that separates and elevates him to the highest of standards through four decades of the best competition in multiple genres. So understandably, Martin had to really think about what in his vast career makes him most proud. "I don't know if there's a single thing," Martin said. "One thing, I would have to say the fact that I made it to NASCAR at such a young age (22). At the time it was an amazingly young age, then I fell on my face and had to go home and start my career again. "So I would say perseverance, if you want to sum it up in one word. Having to start my career all over again and building my way back. Having a second chance is probably the biggest thing." "And the second thing is what I did in the IROC Series." Martin has acknowledged that he was as focused and intense as they came. He was the first driver to seriously incorporate fitness training into his race preparation -- something that may have eased his ability to compete at such a high level even into his 50s. That determination to find an edge was apparent in the garage, even from an early age. He was among the rare drivers to frequently be seen looking into the hood of his car and working alongside the crew. It was the way he was raised by his father Julian, who took great care in guiding his son's passion. There are photos of Martin’s earliest racing days clearly showing how Julian Martin had gone so far to alter his son's first race cars out of love and safety -- mounting the steering wheel in the middle of the car instead of having it on the far left. Dad and son travelled from their native Arkansas throughout the Midwest following the racing dream and they were very close -- now the hard work rewarded with Martin’s long list of achievements and this highest of NASCAR's high honors. Heartbreakingly, Julian was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed in the Nevada mountains in August of 1998, also taking the life of Martin’s stepmother and 11-year old stepsister. Martin remembers immersing himself in competition as best he could to deal with the tragedy. Martin won the night race at Bristol two weeks after losing his father. Immediately after climbing out of his car in Victory Lane, he emotionally thanked the race fans for "their sympathy, love and support" saying their "love for our family has meant everything." "I felt it was my obligation and responsibility to go racing and that's what my dad would have wanted," Martin acknowledged last week. "It was tough, but it would have been tough sitting on a couch in a daze, too. "To me, racing was sort of a responsibility that I had. I felt responsibility toward the 50 or 100 people that supported the (then-Roush Racing) 6-car and a responsibility to race. I just didn't feel like missing a race because I was grieving. … To me, at the time, it just didn't seem like the right thing to do. "It did help me cope with the horrendous loss I was experiencing because I did have to pick up and go racing." And for Martin, the success he would later experience in the second half of his career is as impressive and inspiring as anything he accomplished. He came as close as he ever had to winning the Daytona 500 in 2007, losing the race to Kevin Harvick by a mere 0.02-seconds -- a hood-length -- in a photo finish that marked Martin’s best ever showing in the Great American Race. RELATED: Closest finishes in the history of the Great American Race Two years later, at the age of 50, Martin challenged Jimmie Johnson for what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, winning five races and claiming seven pole positions. Martin led the standings after each of the opening three Chase races, only to finish runner-up to Johnson, a seven-time winner on the year. It marked the fifth and final time Martin was a championship runner-up in an amazing 20-year span of his career. It is a remarkable accomplishment and something he says he is at last comfortable enjoying, free of any near-miss regret. "I never scored enough points to win one, and that's that," Martin said, when asked about it last week. "I would have won one if I had scored more points than anyone else. … and I let that take an enormous amount of joy (from me). "It's something I let go of and I refuse to allow that to rob me of joy. I have a lot to be thankful of, be grateful for. I accomplished a lot in my career and I’m not sour about the things I didn't accomplish." The attitude accompanies good reason -- because by all standards Martin accomplished so much and is admired by so many. Later this week, he will be fittingly celebrated in all the glory he deserves for a career that showed everyone what hard work and mental focus could produce. Forever more, Mark Martin shall be known and introduced as a NASCAR Hall of Famer. "It means more than anything I achieved while I was racing because I was so busy racing, anything I achieved I never paid attention to," Martin said. "I was just storming ahead worried about how I would win the next race. "Now that I've had some time to soak it in, it's the last big deal, the big win, the crown jewel of my career. "Don't forget the people in the Hall of Fame are my heroes, the founders of the sport, the real men that did it with their bare hands. I'm a little bit uncomfortable going in there with them, to be honest with you, because I don't feel like I belong in that kind of company." Perhaps once he stands on stage -- properly celebrated and duly honored -- Martin will accept that he is absolutely a part of that good company. The best. &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;
Chad Knaus accepts Crew Chief of the Year Award
Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 team, accepts the Crew Chief of the Year Award at the 2016 Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon.
Well-traveled Larson poised for quick start to 2017
RELATED: Driver tracker " Key story lines for 2017 MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- The offseason -- typically designated as a time of rest for most involved in the NASCAR industry -- has been atypically busy for Kyle Larson . Between flying halfway around the world for a holiday spent racing sprint cars in Australia to an annual pilgrimage coming next week to the prestigious Chili Bowl Nationals in Oklahoma, there's been little down time. At least he won't have to spend the weeks leading into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series opener having to answer that pesky question from offseasons past: How close are you to that first win? "I didn't even think about that," Larson said Thursday at a team photo shoot, smiling at the revelation. "Yeah, this is the first offseason where I haven't been asked about a first win. Just hope we can get the second one early on in the year and not necessarily relax, but can venture out and try things where we haven't gotten the opportunity to do that in my previous three years of racing. If we can get a win early, I think it'll really benefit us when it comes to the Chase." The 24-year-old driver is prepping for his fourth season at Chip Ganassi Racing with at least one career goal crossed off, visiting Victory Lane for the first time in NASCAR's top division at Michigan International Speedway last August. The triumph marked the high point of his first season working with new crew chief Chad Johnston on the No. 42 Chevrolet team. That milestone helped push Larson to his first appearance in the Chase playoffs, a postseason run that ended after the first round of eliminations. This season, Larson hopes a quick start out of the gate might be a sign of bigger things in 2017. "Last year was his first year with our team and we started off a little slow," Larson said. "I think with a new crew chief coming in, it's hard for them to get things where they want it and bringing things from the team he was with before into our organization. Once he got those things in motion, we picked up some speed and got really good throughout the summer. Tapered off a little bit before the Chase and then picked it right back up at the end of the Chase. "I hope we can start next year off good. That's been a place where we've struggled in the past in our organization -- we'll end the year really good, have high expectations to start the year and underperform for a couple of months, then work really hard to gain points back to make the Chase. I hope we can start the mile-and-a-halfs off where we ended the season and we should have a good year." The new year is already off to a roaring start for Larson, who spent much of the holiday break Down Under with sightseeing and racing at Sydney Speedway, not far from the Aussie metropolis. A side trip to New Zealand for more sprint-car extracurriculars ended up in a washout, but Larson said the whole experience -- including a surprisingly smooth 14-hour flight for his 2-year-old son, Owen -- was unforgettable. "It's always fun to get to go to new places," Larson said. "I've been to Australia once before but a different part. It was cool to race close to Sydney, get to go into the city one day, go to the zoo and then also get to race a sprint car, which I don't get to do a whole lot." That slate promises to pick up next week when Larson and other dirt-savvy NASCAR regulars visit Tulsa for the Chili Bowl, a sprint-car prize that's eluded him in his career thus far. Though the indoor race is a spectator's bonanza, Larson's quick to scuttle any notion of watching from the sidelines. "Oh, I'm racing," Larson said. "I think this is like my ninth or 10th year running, so we practice on Monday and then my prelim night's on Tuesday and then each night, Tuesday through Friday, is a preliminary night and you gain an idea where you'll start on Saturday. Haven't won the Chili Bowl yet. My good buddy, Rico (Abreu), has won the last two of them, so hopefully I can go get a win there, too."
Secret weapon? Grubb's JGR past could help Hendrick
MORE: Buy tickets for Homestead-Miami Championship Weekend Darian Grubb, who spent the past four years as a crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing , says his time there could be beneficial as Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson attempts to win a record-tying seventh Sprint Cup Series title this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "I hope so," said Grubb, now the vehicle production manager at HMS. "If nothing else, it helps me to understand a little bit more about how their mentality was and how they approached races and what they did to prepare. Some of the strategies and the choices you would make going into a championship race, I know what they had done in the past." Johnson is the lone HMS representative in this year's Championship 4 and is going into battle against a pair of JGR drivers in defending series champion Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards , as well as Team Penske representative Joey Logano . "The sport changes so much day to day, year to year; I don't know that it's a huge advantage but hopefully it's something I can help Jimmie and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) a little bit with," Grubb told NASCAR.com on Tuesday. "Just 'Here's what their old mindset was and how they would approach things in the past.' Just so they can think about it." Since the beginning of 2016, chassis production and body hanging programs have been under Grubb's watch at HMS. He also provides engineering consultation and support to all four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams fielded by the organization. He understands the race-day pressure, having weathered the storm from atop the pit box. Grubb was the lead engineer for the 48 of Johnson and the 24 of then-driver Jeff Gordon in 2006 when he was pressed into service after Knaus received a four-race suspension for violations before the Daytona 500 . Grubb helped guide Johnson to the Daytona 500 win as well as a win three weeks later in Las Vegas. Johnson went on to capture the first of five consecutive championships that season. RELATED: Why Johnson will win the 2016 championship He moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, and two years later Grubb was a part of one of the biggest comebacks in series history as driver Tony Stewart won five of 10 Chase races, including the season-ending event at Homestead. Stewart beat Edwards to win his third series crown. In an unusual turn of events, Grubb was released by SHR following the '11 season, a move that had been determined before the start of the 10-race playoff. During his four-year tenure at JGR, Grubb led Denny Hamlin to seven victories; paired with Edwards last year, the No. 19 team won twice and finished fifth in the overall standings. Monday evening, Grubb got the chance to relive the 2011 championship as NBCSN replayed the race and Stewart chimed in via Twitter throughout the event. "Watching it on TV, it all came back to me," Grubb said. "I felt like I was living in the moment again. There was just so much drama that happened. "It was so much fun to be there, honestly. We had nothing to lose; we could not finish worse than second no matter what happened. And we knew if we won, there was no way that Carl could win the championship regardless of leading the most laps and all those other things. We just had to win and that was our mindset. "We went to the back I think three times. Had some bad pit stops and all kinds of damage to the car that we overcame -- then the rain two times. It was just fun. We could smile and laugh about it the whole weekend and just never get really stressed out. That's what made it so much more enjoyable when it was all done." At one point Monday evening, Grubb tweeted that he hoped Johnson was watching the replay "to get fired up." "Because I got so fired up watching that to go to Homestead now," he said. "That track is so awesome; to be able to run so many different lines and three- and four-wide passes. Just knowing what Jimmie is capable of, I think it's going to be hard for anybody to count him out. We just have to make sure we don't do anything to take ourselves out and let Jimmie go out there and earn it." Can Johnson win No. 7 at Homestead, one of four tracks where he has yet to visit Victory Lane? The No. 48 entry will be one that's been run elsewhere with good results. "It's been back to the wind tunnel and had some more love applied to it," Grubb said. "We're hoping it goes out there and unloads fast. "We've got Jimmie Johnson so that'll put us a leg up on anybody at any given time." The season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 is scheduled for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET (NBC, MRN, SiriusXN NASCAR). MORE: Johnson has never had to win at Miami
Jesse Little teams with ThorSport for Truck debut
NASCAR Next driver to make first national series start at Dover Team Little Racing announced Friday afternoon that it has reached an agreement with ThorSport Racing for a part-time schedule for NASCAR Next driver Jesse Little in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season. Little , 18, had previously announced that he would make his truck tour debut May 29 at Dover International Speedway . Friday's announcement provided extra detail on his 2015 plans, including the partnership with ThorSport -- winner of the last two Camping World Truck Series championships with veteran Matt Crafton . "To have this alliance and support from ThorSport Racing for my Truck Series Events is a huge step forward for me, Team Little Racing and our partners," Little said in a release provided by his team. "Our goals are to put together solid finishes and represent ThorSport Racing, Duke Thorson and our sponsors including NASCAR Technical Institute and Performance Friction Brakes in a first-class manner." Thorson has fielded trucks in the series since 1996. His three-truck effort this season includes rides for Crafton, Johnny Sauter and rookie Cameron Hayley . "We look forward to supporting Jesse as he makes his transition into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series," Thorson said. "We feel that this alliance with ( Little ) will assist him in reaching his ultimate goal in NASCAR." Little will have a familiar face atop the pit box in Harold Holly, a 19-time winner as a crew chief in what is now called the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The veteran wrench spent two seasons as crew chief for Little's father, Chad , in both XFINITY and Sprint Cup competition. "Jesse is an impressive young man in so many aspects of life," Holly said. "He's a strong student, treats everyone with respect and is eager to learn new things. From a racing perspective Jesse has won at every level he's competed on, takes care of his equipment, provides his team with good feedback and knows how to pace himself during a race. This partnership with ThorSport Racing will give us a chance to compete at one of the sport's top levels where Jesse can show his skills. "We have solid goals, will work to be a good teammate and always be respectful on the track. As a team we're excited to get to Dover and see what our team can do in our Camping World Truck Series debut." Jesse Little is in his fourth season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where he was the rookie of the year in 2013. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Jesse Little looks ahead to Truck debut
NASCAR Next driver set to take on Monster Mile DOVER, Del. -- Sporting a grin from ear to ear, Jesse Little walked into the media center on Thursday at Dover International Speedway ready to take on the weekend. Piloting the No. 97 Carolina Nut Company Toyota for ThorSport Racing, the 18-year-old K&N Pro Series East regular and NASCAR Next driver will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at the Monster Mile on Friday. "I've been looking forward to this weekend for a long time," Little said. "I know this is a family-owned team and we've put a lot of hard work and preparation into this weekend and I think my Camping World Truck Series start at Dover is something that still hasn't hit me yet. But I'm certainly excited and I love coming to this place. I enjoy it very much and I'm looking forward to a great weekend." Sitting side-by-side to Little during the press conference were two of the Truck Series' youngest drivers, 17-year-olds Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek . With just a total of 23 starts shared between the two drivers, they offered Little any bit of advice they could give for his first Truck start. "I'd say take it easy, especially the first lap of the race," Custer advised Little . "It's amazing how much the air affects these things. I was honestly scared for my life the first time I did it." In Custer's first start at Dover last season he finished 14th. "Just finish the race," Nemechek told Little with a chuckle. "Run as many laps as you can to get the experience." In Nemechek's first start at Dover last season he finished sixth. Little , Custer and Nemechek are all on this season's NASCAR Next roster and agree that the program has brought the young drivers together. "It makes it enjoyable for us as drivers when we know we have someone we can go to and talk to and they'll understand," Little said. "It makes it easier and at the same time it makes it fun." Manning Little's pit box is another familiar face to the young driver. Harold Holly, a 19-time winning crew chief in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and former pit boss for Little's father, Chad , who is currently NASCAR's managing director, technical inspection/officiating. Holly will be calling the shots during Friday's Lucas Oil 200 (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). "Harold and I go way back ... He's always been a great family friend," Little said" "Him and I have great chemistry and that goes the same for the ThorSport guys. It's been great to have their help. I have the ability to lean on (ThorSport teammates) Matt (Crafton) and Johnny (Sauter) and those guys and their knowledge is amazing and I'm definitely going to use that for my advantage and lean on those guys quite a bit this weekend." Lucky for Little , ThorSport Racing teammate Crafton just so happens to be a two-time Camping World Truck Series champion. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Patrick: 'Chad Knaus would've killed me'
Host shares story of his last NASCAR experience Chatting with Kansas winner Joey Logano on his NBCSN simulcasted talk show, "The Dan Patrick Show" on Monday morning, host Dan Patrick shared a funny little story about the last time he was at a NASCAR race -- and why he might not be welcome back. "I was in Chicago a couple of years ago and I almost leaned on Jimmie Johnson 's spoiler, pre-race," Patrick said. Uh oh. " Chad Knaus, I think, would've killed me. I was talking to Jimmie right before the race and I almost leaned on his spoiler." Logano, quick on his feet, noted that if he bent it the right way, Knaus may have even thanked him. "If you were pulling it back, or something, ( Chad ) might've been okay with it." Not that he would know anything about those sort of hijinks. RELATED: NASCAR to police flared skirts in 2015 Still, Logano wants the host to come out to a race to cheer him on – well, maybe. "I don't know if you want me out there, Joey," Patrick said. "Because then I'm going to want to get in your pits and I'm going to want to work the pits." Logano, entrenched in a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup run, can't take any risks and responded appropriately. "Then just don't come."
Cain: Bigger and more memorable at Texas
RELATED: Gallery of memorable moments at Texas " Full weekend schedule FORT WORTH -- From track "weepers" and multicar inaugural-lap pileups to a winner's circle confrontation between two Indianapolis 500 champs, Texas Motor Speedway has been the site of some of the most remarkable, memorable and bizarre story lines of any circuit on the NASCAR circuit. The 1.5-mile oval outside Fort Worth celebrates its 20th year hosting a NASCAR race this week with Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.) And for those of us around at the very beginning, it seems a fitting time to reminisce a bit about the facility's famously storied early history. As they like to remind you in Texas, everything is "bigger" there. And it has been. The track's early trials and tribulations have only contributed to its great character and esteem. In my 25 years of sports journalism, the opening races at Texas Motor Speedway still remain among the most unforgettable times of my career. Never before and never since have I covered a specific beat that provided as much sensation, controversy and must-see-TV as TMS in the early years. Two decades later, the track located at the intersection of an interstate and two major Texas highways has evolved into one of the sport's most prestigious venues. It boasts the largest HD screen, named "Big Hoss," fantastic spectator seating and the most condominiums of any track on the circuit. Plus really great racing. Nearly 195,000 people showed up for the inaugural Texas race in 1997 and most of those who were ticket holders then still are, two decades later proving they are as faithful and optimistic as they were devoted. It turns out those have been good traits for this endeavor. MORE: Paint scheme preview for Texas I had just started work at The Dallas Morning News newspaper in the spring of 1997 a few weeks after Jeff Burton took the checkered flag for NASCAR's first Cup series race at Texas in April. The new facility was considered the "home track" to cover. After reporting on the Indianapolis 500 in May, I was immediately back home in Dallas, ready for the Indy Racing League's night-time debut at TMS the next week. There, a 26-year old future three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart put on an open-wheel show for the ages, racing wheel-to-wheel lap-after-lap with Buddy Lazier. Stewart -- who went on to win two Cup races at Texas (2006 and 2011) -- led a race-high 100 of the 208 laps only to suffer an engine failure that night. But toward the end of the race there were questions regarding the scoring shown on the monitor in the press box. And soon after making my way down to the infield to prepare for a super-tight Saturday night newspaper deadline, the real craziness began. While trying to get post-race quotes from the apparent first-time winner Billy Boat ( XFINITY Series driver Chad's dad) and Boat's team owner, Texan A.J. Foyt, I was standing a few feet away when driver Arie Luyendyk confronted Foyt in Victory Lane. After questioning the results, challenging Foyt and suggesting he was actually the legitimate race winner, Luyendyk tumbled into the victory flowers. Boat and Foyt hoisted the trophy. It was surreal. I was on a crazy tight deadline. But the next day in a hastily called press conference, Luyendyk was declared the winner after USAC conceded a scoring error. After USAC officials suggested problems with the track's scoring system, TMS President Eddie Gossage took the press conference podium and strongly reminded that the speedway wasn't responsible for the scoring. "I got home at 3 in the morning knowing we gave the trophy to the wrong winner and had a press conference for 8 in the morning," said Gossage. "I go in to the press conference with two hours of sleep and I'm sitting in the back row and the head scorer for USAC says that the speedway's timing and scoring equipment didn't work. "He says it again and then a third time so I just walked up on stage and stepped up to the podium and eased him to the side and said, " Texas Motor Speedway doesn't own a stop watch. ... People have a right to know when they leave the race track who the winner is and we all didn't get what we paid for." Then after a dramatic exit and door slam, Gossage recalls, "My dad called from Tennessee and said, 'You were raised better, acting like an idiot on television for all the world to see, embarrassing me and your mom.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'You didn't know it was live on ESPN?' "I didn't. And then I was like, 'You're right, sir. I'm sorry. I know better.' " Gossage has a good laugh recalling the whole ordeal now. Foyt, who still disputes the result, kept the trophy and Luyendyk was given another one. A year later, Boat recalled of the evening, "We went into Victory Circle knowing nothing about a scoring error, only that someone was talking derogatory about our race team. You don't do that in a big Texan's Victory Circle." Luyendyk, of Holland, said the incident -- replayed repeatedly all over the world at the time -- actually made him and the Texas Motor Speedway more famous overseas. MORE: Gossage and drivers try to draw state of Texas And then in 1998 came NASCAR's second Cup try. After two multi-car accidents in the inaugural race, conventional wisdom promised this one just had to go down more smoothly. NASCAR's biggest stars such as Rusty Wallace, Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin were among those who crashed in the opening race. Darrell Waltrip finished last after being involved in a 13-car wreck on the very first turn of the very first lap of Cup competition there. And Burton ended up winning by 4 seconds. Surely, everyone figured, the second race would be smoother. It wasn't. "Weepers" became a familiar word. The water seeping through the track caused qualifying to be completed a day late. And of all things, there was a huge 10-car accident on the second lap of the race. Jeff Gordon and yes, Waltrip, were collected in that melee. Mark Martin won the race by a half-second over Chad Little and Robert Pressley. Shortly after, TMS went through a re-paving and re-fitting, track owner Bruton Smith and Gossage committed to correction. "The first year it was just terrible and everything seemed to go wrong," Gossage conceded this week. "And the second year, obviously you try to improve so all of a sudden here's these weepers that came through. "I remember driving into the infield and in the rearview mirror saw Lake Speed knock the wall down in Turn 1 in qualifying. I thought, 'Oh no.' "I'm always the worst critic," Gossage said, logging the long hours readying for the weekend's big events. "There are things other people might not have noticed but I did. For some reason things worked really well in 1999 when Terry Labonte won and it's been better since then. That's the way a race weekend was supposed to go." Not only has it been better, it's typically a discussion point in every season review. In 2005, Texas finally got the second date it had longed for since I worked at the Dallas paper nearly a decade earlier. And the facility -- big enough to fit every Texas sporting stadium in its infield -- is also a big-time player in the Chase for the Sprint Cup . It's still providing those jaw-dropping, television highlight moments seemingly born with the track. Dale Earnhardt Jr . scored his first Cup win at TMS in April 2000. And Chase Elliott got his first XFINITY Series win here in 2014 driving for Junior at JR Motorsports. Gordon, who won this race in 2009, has starred in a couple TMS highlight reels, too. He was involved in a pair of high profile skirmishes from taking on Burton on-track after a wreck in 2010 to a crazy pit road scuffle with Brad Keselowski in 2014. "You have to be honest," Gossage said. "And looking back, it's just how things occurred. I wouldn't trade any of it, if it is what got us where we are. I'll take where we stand in our success as the most successful major market speedway in the history of this sport. I'll take that. "I won't trade my job with the guy running any other race track because I'm just so proud of what's been accomplished here."
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