This is part of two of my five-part “Letter to Anthony Wayne”. Credit to ESPN’s Tom Friend for his huge influence on this via his article, “Chewing ’em Up“. Read part one here and come back tomorrow for part three!
By 2003, things were in full swing on both ends.
You were fully invested in the Cup Series, and I was fully invested in supporting you as best I could. It was around this time that I had my first incarnation of the “race day uniform”: a particular shirt, pair of shorts, hat and underwear (I have to stay committed to things 100%!), to be worn each race day.
My mother had become a bit of a convert too: she grew up as a Redskins fan, so liking the ole’ ball coach’s NASCAR team came easy to her.
I remember the first day we went to the NASCAR Speedpark at Concord Mills. It was Spring Break of 2003, and I wanted to go go-karting, because when you’re that young and can’t drive a real kart, where else are you going to get your fix for speed?
At any rate, we were standing in line for one of the tracks, and my mother gave me the huge shove-in-the-back that was meant to be subtle, but clearly wasn’t. At least to me, it wasn’t!
She had turned around behind us in line and had seen a familiar face. She wanted me to ask the man in the glasses who he was, just to be sure. I was in disbelief and doubt, so I refrained.
She eventually got fed up with me, so she did it herself! Turned around and asked him something along the lines of “Excuse me, sir, are you…?”
His reserved and polite “yeah” in response, combined with his signature glasses, gave us all we needed to know: standing in line for go-karts behind us was the ole’ ball coach himself!
Of course, my mother (always quick to embarrass me) immediately started gushing about how we were huge fans and how we loved the teams and all. Joe was very polite in his response, which I think says a lot about who he is as a person, even to this day. It was a fun moment, for me, but I feel like that was the first moment that my family accepted NASCAR. That would be crucial going forward!
Meanwhile, you had established yourself as a mainstay in the Winston Cup, and were busy consistently knocking down three wins a season.
Some of them were almost huge too. The 2004 500 jumps out at me, because that was the first real shot I feel like you had to win it.
But even I knew in the final green-flag run that we were holding on over Junior. I knew all along that he would get around you, and probably win the thing too. And why not? How storybook it was going to be, that six years to the day that his late father won the biggest race in the sport, his son would win it too.
It was more of a “darn, shucks!” kind of feeling after that race. That would change as the seasons went on though.
But internally, there was so much turmoil in your life, even with all the on-track success.
I was quite fine, but you weren’t. You were busy living it up in a copacabana of a frat house on Lake Norman, living life angry and happy to do everything and anything that would piss off everyone that wasn’t already a fan of yours.
Then Zippy called the “divine intervention” meeting that October and everybody on your team let you have it. They told you how they were tired of taking flack from fans because of what you were doing. They wanted you to change, or they were done with you.
So you did. You moved away from North Carolina, and back to Columbus. You went back home and started to put your life back together.