I’ve been called a lot of things over the years — most of them nice — and I’ve played a lot of roles in my life.
But on Thursday, I was definitely the quintessential fan girl.
When I first developed an interest in motorsports — specifically in NASCAR — more than 10 years ago, my favorite team was Joe Gibbs Racing. At the time, JGR was a two-car organization with the calm, quiet Bobby Labonte at the helm of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac and a brash, up-and-coming open-wheel veteran named Tony Stewart making a splash as a rookie behind the wheel of the No. 20 Home Depot machine. And in typical NASCAR fandom, I wore the graphically designed T-shirts bearing my drivers’ likenesses – my favorite was one that featured both Labonte and Stewart — and I collected the diecast models. I was, in a word, a loyal NASCAR fan.
Since then, a lot has changed. Labonte, after winning the 2000 Winston Cup title, moved on to other teams and opportunities. Stewart, who earned two titles of his own in 2002 and 2005, is now the owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. And having grown up a bit and been around the sport for a few years on the inside, I’ve lost some of that naiveté I had in my youth when it comes to how I view motorsports, NASCAR and its drivers.
Still, I was excited to finally make it to Joe Gibbs Racing, the final stop on this year’s edition of the Sprint NASCAR Media Tour. One thing or another had kept me from making the trek to Huntersville to visit the home of the team I at one time idolized, but this time I was finally getting inside.
If I was excited when I entered the shop, I was floored when, during a presentation celebrating the organization’s 20th season in NASCAR, team President J.D. Gibbs welcomed Labonte onto the stage to reminisce about his days with JGR. It was a wonderful moment and something I never thought to wish for. And just as I began to wonder — and then doubt my own foolishness — if they could possibly bring Stewart out onto stage, he was there.
Suddenly, I was the 16-year-old fan girl again, decked out in my favorite JGR T-shirt watching 400 laps of the MBNA 400 from Dover, Del., on TNN on a Sunday afternoon, fingers crossed as I watched with bated breath and cheered with every lap like it was the last and like every lap would bring my two favorite drivers closer and closer to winning not only the race but the Winston Cup.
It’s silly, I know, that two men being in the same room together could bring about such emotions, but it was THOSE two men and it was THAT room at THAT organization that brought it on. And for just a little while, instead of viewing the NASCAR realm and all the problems it may have through jaded eyes, everything was bright and shiny and new again.
Just for a moment, I was that fan girl again.