POCONO, PA — Blog and Photos by Race Chaser Online New York Correspondent Steven Ovens — “Dad, why don’t we go to Pocono? It will be an early Father’s Day present for you.”
That was the text message I sent to my father last Monday, just 6 days before one of the days at the racetrack that we will remember forever.
Living here in Upstate New York, we don’t often get the chance to go see a NASCAR race that doesn’t involve the twists and turns of the famous Watkins Glen International. Don’t get me wrong, we love WGI, but we’ve not often gone to a NASCAR oval race. I could have gone with the new golf shirt, new brand-name golf balls and a new Dale Jr. hat for Father’s Day — but a day at a NASCAR race 3 1/2 hours away seemed more appropriate for us.
Dad, my brother and I have been through enough racing together that we could spend a week around a camp fire telling stories. We raced go-karts for years, winning many races and knocking down several point titles along the way. We moved to bigger cars in our advantures in a 4-Cylinder Ford Mustang — winning more races and another points championship.
Although we don’t strap into racecars any more, there isn’t a better day or night spent together than leaning against the fence taking in a race from the pit areas of our local dirt tracks. We have many friends at the local tracks but there is definitely a close connection that is missing when we go watch the races now, except when we have the chance to watch our favorite NASCAR driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
We were your typical Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan ‘back in the day’. Everything was black with a white number 3 on it. Every go-kart we ever raced was a #3. My first 4-Cylinder dirt car could have doubled as a Goodwrench show car- that’s just how it was with the Ovens boys. When Dale passed away at Daytona, we lost a family member like so many of his fans did that day as well. We moved on from that day and naturally switched our allegiance to Dale Jr.
Even now as a writer in the media I know I probably shouldn’t have a ‘favorite driver’ but being a card-carrying member of Junior Nation is something you can never take from me. Every win by Junior brought back the emotions of losing Dale Senior but always seemed to help in the healing process of that loss. Being a Junior fan is just something that embraces you, gets in your blood and never leaves.
The win at Michigan in 2012 and breaking that losing streak was huge for Dale and all of his great fans. The high felt from him winning the Daytona 500 in February was one that didn’t wear off for weeks. But as we headed to the Pocono Mountains on Sunday to take in the Pocono 400, our expectations certainly did not include a Junior win.
As we crossed the border into Pennsylvania my dad turned to me and said, “I wish Dale and Stevie could find a way to get another win before the Chase starts.” I replied that of course that would be nice, but I was just happy to be taking in a race in-person that included our favorite driver. A good run for Dale and a good day out with dad was going to be enough for me on what was a Chamber of Commerce type day in PA.
The closing laps in the Pocono 400 are 5-6 laps that will forever be engrained in our memories. Brad Keselowski was able to keep Dale at arm’s reach and Dale just couldn’t close up close enough to make a run. Then to our shock and amazement, Dave Moody went crazy on the MRN broadcast by telling us of Dale’s move to take the lead. Every single fan in our section of the Petty Tower started screaming and jumping up and down. Apparently Petty Tower Section 251 Rows 22 to the top is the Dale Jr section!
We didn’t know what was going to happen and neither did Dale or Brad as they nursed overheating engines home to the finish. My dad’s nerves were about shot when the checkered flag finally did wave. In the last 3 laps I saw him wiping the sweat off his hands onto his pants, I saw him pace our little section of seats and I heard him scream and yell for our favorite driver. As for me, I don’t think an LMFAO song had as much fist-pumping as I exhibited in Section 251 at the end of that race. I can already see my fiance shaking her head when she reads how we were acting at the end of the race. We were going to will that car across the line if that’s what it took to get the W.
The checkered flag and celebration after is one of the most memorable moments from Sunday. We hugged, high-fived and celebrated with race fans we had never met before Sunday. It is this kind of atmosphere that makes our sport so special. We stayed in the grandstands for an hour after the race, moving toward the start/finish line to take in what we could of the victory lane activity. My dad said it best, “I can’t believe we drove down here to see the race and saw Dale Junior win. I guess we made a good choice to come down here.”
That we did.
The long and short of this blog is on Sunday my dad and I experienced what was without a doubt one of the best ‘Father’s Day’ celebrations ever. We ended up going on a whim and got to cross ‘Seeing an Earnhardt win a race’ off both of our bucket lists, an item that we both didn’t think we would ever see unless an out-of-the-box pit strategy came to fruition at Watkins Glen.
Thank you Pocono Raceway, NASCAR and Dale Junior for giving us both a beautiful day in Pennsylvania that will never be erased from our memory.