Hard not to be emotional after watching JTG Daugherty win Daytona 500


DAYTONA BEACH – A professionally-trained journalist shouldn’t show favoritism or emotion in a story. I graduated with a college degree when they taught objective reporting, not a multi-platform media degree where ideas are limited to 280 characters.

Asking tough questions, that’s me. Not accepting deceptive answers, that’s me. Making sure all sides have their say, that’s me. Crying like a baby at the end of the race, that was me, too.

I was overwhelmed after Ricky Stenhouse held off Joey Logano on the final lap of the Daytona 500. I saw it in person and got teary-eyed. I went home and watched the replay, and I cried again.

I could watch the final lap 100 times, and I’m sure I’ll get emotional every time.

Tad and Jodi Geschickter are two of the people who make NASCAR great. The best motorsports writer I ever knew, the late Tom Higgins with the Charlotte Observer, once told me racing isn’t about cars and going fast. It’s about people. And there are no better people in the sport than the Geschickters.

The couple hired me to write advances and race reports for the 1997 season, two years after they started a fledging Xfinity Series team with driver Jeff Fuller. I stayed with them when they expanded to the Truck Series before settling on NASCAR Cup in 2008.

Their teams were fueled by hard work, faith and determination. I know. I was part of it for 12 years. I remember getting a call from Tad in 1998. He said there was a guy from Southern California who competed in the stadium truck series and he wanted to see him in a stock car.

His first two official NASCAR finishes were 25th at Indianapolis Raceway Park and 15th at Gateway International, but Jimmie Johnson went on to win 83 races and seven Cup championships. And it all started with the Geschickters.

Marcos Ambrose also got his start with the Geschickters. So did Adam Petty.

Kingsford’s parent company, Clorox, didn’t care the team went winless for many years because the Geschickters were masterful at marketing and knew how to leverage racing to increase their sales.

“We don’t quit,” Jodi said. “We dig in. We don’t quit. We’re tenacious.”

The Geschickters added a third partner in NBA star Brad Daugherty in 2009. Oddly enough, I covered Brad when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many don’t know, but he always wore No. 43 because his favorite athlete was Richard Petty.

The Geschickters have been racing for 29 years. They now have two Cup wins and four Xfinity wins. But they always had the respect from a sport often doesn’t slow down to notice.

Jodi said Tad had a hunch the team would win hours before Stenhouse took the green flag.

“I was up at 3:30 (a.m.) tossing around just thinking through the day,” she said. “When Tad woke up, I was making coffee, and then he said we’re going to win today. Tad really felt it.

“For me, that feels like validation. That feels like a finish. We needed that. Our guys needed that. Our sponsors needed that.”

NASCAR needed it, too.

It’s refreshing when a single-car team wins. It proves hard work and conviction can be as important as a blank check.

The Daytona victory also was historic. Jodi is the first woman owner to win the biggest stock car race of the year; Daugherty is the first Black owner.

“America doesn’t look like the people in the garage area have looked like for 55 years,” Tad said. It’s diverse and everyone has different points of view and different talents and treasures. Brad certainly adds a different element to what we do and different thinking and different background, and I think it’s the same from engineering to tire changers to drivers. It’s sorely needed.”

I needed to watch my old friends smiling and reveling in Victory Lane. I had emotional skin in the game. Everyone tied to the Geschickters feels the same way.


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