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During the scuffle that led to the killing of the first Boston Marathon bomber, an MIT police officer was also killed. It took several hours for the news to disseminate but eventually we heard that this officer, Sean Collier, was actually related to a machinist at Hendrick Motorsports, Andrew Collier.
This random fact may not have affected the mainstream public, but those in the NASCAR world doubly mourned the officer. Not only did this brave man lose his life in the line of duty but he was related to one of their own.
Unfortunately, but realistically, it is important to note that NASCAR is not immune from tragedy away from the racetrack.
Of course it is easy to point out the NASCAR has had an inordinate amount of sadness when we remember deaths and injuries associated with racing accidents. But in addition to those tragedies, real life has affected many others in NASCAR as well.
Rick Hendrick is no stranger to real life attacking him myriad times.
In December of 1996, a federal grand jury in Asheville, NC indicted Hendrick for bribing Honda executives. The news was a tough blow for the man who only two weeks before was told he had chronic myelogenous leukemia.
Hendrick was sentenced to one year of in-home detention, three years of probation, and a $250,000 fine for his part in the American Honda Motor Company bribery and kickback scandal.
Hendrick’s leukemia reportedly went into remission in December 1999.
But Hendrick’s real life horrors were not over. In 2004 he lost his son Ricky to a plane crash. Also killed were his brother John, who was the president of Hendrick Motorsports, John's twin daughters, chief engine builder Randy Dorton and five other friends and notables. It was a devastating blow for this successful NASCAR team owner.
It’s arguable whether Hendrick ever will “get over” the loss, but he certainly has continued living to his best ability, running his successful race teams, and staying visible in the sport.
Another successful NASCAR team owner has also suffered at the hands of fate. An avid pilot, Jack Roush has been in two plane accidents since 2002.
In 2002 Roush nearly lost his life when his plane came down in Alabama and he was plummeted into water with a concussion. Luckily he was rescued in time to prevent him from drowning or having permanent brain damage.
Eight years later Roush was involved in another flight accident that resulted in multiple injuries including the loss of his left eye.
Money does not make one immune to danger, heartache, and disappointment.
A long-time driver for Roush, Mark Martin was another citizen of NASCAR who experienced real life at its harshest. Early in his career Martin drank to excess and it affected him negatively. Once he decided to quit – for good – Martin’s career was revitalized. Lucky for Martin and his numerous fans his passion to drive a racecar far exceeded his passion to drink. Martin has done what many are unable by stopping drinking. Using his father as a positive role model as someone who was able to successfully stop drinking, Martin was determined to triumph over his addiction.
The King, Richard Petty, had to deal with the unthinkable, burying his grandson Adam and is now watching his bride of 55 years deteriorate after a bout with cancer, a brain tumor, and several mini-strokes that have left her physically inactive.
On the other end of the spectrum, a young Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to say good bye to a father who was a powerful figure in his life and share his grief with an enormous NASCAR world.
In some cases, difficult times have turned to joyous periods in the lives of those who populate NASCAR.
Junior Johnson and Jeff Gordon each suffered public and expensive divorces and both found their way to new loves and happiness.
In recent years the NASCAR baby boom has swept through the garages. The bachelors of old are now happily changing diapers, rocking crying babies, and embracing their lives as hands-on dads.
No matter the situation, the life event, the tragedy or the triumph, those in NASCAR are affected by real life like all the rest of us. Money, prestige, and notoriety do not exist in terms of death, injury, and matters of the heart.
NASCAR folks are compassionate beings, not because it is expected or because the media is watching, it’s because they live real life every day like we do.
I am always saddened by passings, touched by tragedy, and over-joyed by good news. Seeing the citizens of NASCAR go through much the same trials and tribulations of “real folks” so I can identify with them is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.
Chief 187™ is a writer, columnist, and blogger as well as creator of the widely popular Chief 187™Chatter. Her column “Why I Love NASCAR” and other articles are featured on Skirts and Scuffs. She can be reached via Twitter by following @Chief187s. To find out more please visit http://Chief187.com.