|Credit Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs|
|Credit Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs|
Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, NASCAR and racing of all kinds was a way of life. “I just grew up with a wrench in my hand,” he said. “I was racing full-sized vehicles at age nine. Back then they didn’t have a whole lot of rules.” Backwoods, little dirt tracks, he ran them all.
Berry’s favorite driver? Dale Earnhardt. “I was a huge Dale Earnhardt fan,” he said. “Still am, even though, God bless his soul, he’s been gone for a while. That’s the reason my team shirts are black. You’d think after all these years being at the track I’d have seized the opportunity to not have to wear black but it’s kind of a tribute.”
He never got to meet his favorite driver, although he has Earnhardt’s autograph that a friend got for him. “I've gotten to meet just about every other driver on in the series but I never got to meet Dale in person, shake hands with him. But Dale always kind of reminded me of my father: he grew up, come from nothing, hardscrabble, never quit, never say no - Dale and my father have always been, in my mind, one and the same. My dad’s still alive, fortunately, and we still race together.” Berry said he navigates for his father when they race together because his dad can’t stand to have someone else drive.
Berry held seats at Daytona for years, but gave them up because it was too hard to go to that track without the elder Earnhardt there. “I was at Daytona when Dale died,” Berry said somberly. “I have really good pictures of the accident, unfortunately. I mean, the last lap and them three boys were bringing it home, I had the lens zoomed right in. I’d been following Junior and Mikey around but then I put it back on Dale because I just knew - you just knew something was going to happen. But none of us thought it was going to be what it was.”
“I had those photos developed, looked at them once, put them away and I've never looked at them again. It’s still hard not to get choked up talking about it now, as it is for a lot of people.”
Berry got to know Jade Gurss, author of In the Red, who was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s PR representative during Junior’s Budweiser days (whom I interviewed). “ We've had him on the show a couple of times, we got to be buddies.” Berry said. “The connection I have to Jade is that we were both there that day, along with, what? A quarter million people in the stands that day.?” Lowman said he also knew a lot of the team members from RCR and DEI, and got to talk to them in the pits and visit them in the garage,but “it was always hard to get to Dale,” so he never got to meet him.
Of course, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is his favorite driver now, as much for loyalty as anything. Berry followed Jr. before his entry into the Busch series, and referred to a race in ‘97 at Fontana in which Junior raced but didn’t have much luck. He was 30 or more laps down and Berry said, “I watched him struggle and listened to him on the radio and you could just hear in his voice how disappointed he was, and I kinda could relate. Where Dale always reminded me of my dad, I kind of related to Junior on that deal of always trying to impress your dad.” Berry said that while he’s been fortunate enough in his life to get to do things that he never thought he’d be able to do, coming from Eastern Kentucky, he could still relate to Junior’s desire to please his father.
“It broke my heart when he had to pull out of the Chase, but I tell you what, especially as a racer I have the utmost respect for him being honest, saying ‘Hey listen, I don’t feel right, I don’t need to be out there getting hurt, getting somebody else hurt,’” Berry said. Having had his "bell rung” himself, Berry understands how running at speed would be difficult, if not impossible.
When I asked about his favorite NASCAR memory, he said it was hard to choose. One was being at Daytona in July, 2001 when Junior won. “That was good...” His voice broke with emotion.”That was good.”
Berry was also at Daytona in 2003 when Michael Waltrip won a rain-shortened race. “They pulled Mikey into the Busch Series garage, and they all started celebrating right there. Then NASCAR came along and made them pull over to the official victory lane but originally they just pulled the car into the garage and they all just started celebrating right there. Well, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.” Berry said. “And when they come pulling that car down through, there was so much chaos going on, I just slipped right through and I had so much hanging around my neck that I just walked right in with the guys from DEI. So I was standing there, just inside inside the rope, up against the car with all the DEI teammates. I actually got sprayed with champagne."
Berry said that’s got to be his favorite NASCAR moment, when Michael Waltrip finally got his moment in victory lane. “I was never so happy to be standing there in the rain, soaked in champagne....It felt like it brought it all full circle.
|The No. 3 Lone Star Flag at TMS |
Credit Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Of the new generation of racers, it's no surprise Berry would choose Austin Dillon. "He's the new hope for us old school No. 3 fans for many reasons."
My thanks to Berry for taking time to meet with me before going out to chauffeur Nationwide drivers from introductions to the starting grid.
And y'all don't forget to check out #Motorama on Wednesday nights, only on Twitter!
She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May 2011, going from contributor to media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar. Janine considers it a privilege to represent the site at the track and to share with readers the excitement of the world of motorsports.
Follow her on Twitter @ljc777.