Long: A monumental journey ends with ‘Dad, we did it’ and a teary-eyed father

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Jerry Brown stood near the car and paced. He cupped his phone in his hand and talked over the speaker to one of the lucky few who managed to reach him to congratulate him on this moment, this journey, and this feeling.

As NASCAR officials examined his son’s winning Xfinity Series car Saturday night at Talladega Superspeedway, Brown stayed nearby in the brightly lit garage. Darkness enveloped the track.

Then came the signal. A NASCAR official gave Brown a thumbs up. Son Brandon’s first NASCAR win was confirmed.

“Whooooooo!” Jerry Brown hollered in a manner that might make former wrestler Ric Flair proud.

Brown waved his arms and pumped them, bouncing around as he held his phone.

A journey that started nearly 20 years ago with son Brandon finally saw father and son celebrate a NASCAR victory.

It had taken 135 races in the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series to get here. Some race longer and never do. Some like Ty Gibbs win in their first NASCAR national series race. It has never been easy for Jerry and Brandon Brown.

“When you have to fight so hard for something … I’m numb,” Jerry Brown said. “I’m literally numb. When you fight so hard for so many years and the odds are all against you and you finally beat the odds, just an unbelievable feeling.”

As he spoke, a team member walked over.

“I’m going to clean the car unless you want to keep it the way it is” he said. “You want to retire it?’’

“It’s retired, dude,” Brown responded. “It’s retired. Which one is that?”

007.

Yes, that is the car’s number. It’s a 2012 Kyle Busch Motorsports chassis. A rainbow of colors from sports drinks splashed in Victory Lane stain and make the cockpit sticky. Speedy-dri adds to the cockpit’s decor.

007 is the only speedway car the team has owned. The chassis survived multiple wrecks. When it was damaged, the team removed a front clip or rear clip or both and fixed the vehicle.

When it’s a family-run team with a tight budget, fixing cars is cheaper than buying new ones. Brandon Brown’s quest for sponsorship gained notoriety this year for his creative social media videos where he played the role of used car salesman. 

Behind those funny videos was a serious matter for this small team that has had modest success in NASCAR – Brandon Brown did make the Xfinity playoffs in 2020 but he’s also had only 16 top-10 finishes in 114 starts.

So what kept father and son going through such challenges?

“I keep asking myself that same question over and over again,” Jerry Brown said. “To be quite honest with you, I was starting to feel the end was getting near.

“We’ve been after it for so long. Sponsorship was so sporadic. The problem is as you do better, you can’t go back. I’m always looking to do better, knowing what it takes to get better and better. With sporadic sponsorship, you’re so close you can taste it, but you just can’t get that last little bit.

“It was getting very, very frustrating. I kept asking myself, ‘How much longer can I go through this?’ Luckily, I never answered that question.”

Saturday’s special moment for the Browns nearly didn’t happen.

Brandon Brown was racing Brandon Jones for the lead when the caution waved for a crash. NASCAR has 20 scoring loops positioned around the 2.66-mile track. When the caution is called, NASCAR’s loop system records where every car is on the track. That allows officials to determine the running order.

The last scoring loop Brandon Brown and Brandon Jones passed before the caution came out was Loop 12 in the middle of Turns 3 and 4. Brandon Brown led by six-thousandths of a second.

That’s why Brown was put in the lead under the caution. When officials determined it was too dark to continue, Brandon Brown was declared the winner.

That’s how close Brandon and Jerry Brown were from another heartbreak.

This time was Jones and his Joe Gibbs Racing team feeling that emotion.

As soon as he was told the race was, Brandon Brown shouted over the car’s radio: “Oh my God! Oh my God! Wow! Just wow! Oh my God! This is a dream come true! This is a dream come true!”

During his interview with NBCSN at the finish line, Brown shouted: “Dad, we did it!”

Brown later described his emotions as “surreal. It’s really hard to just capture one single emotion. Happiness. Relief. Joy. Excitement. Just the feeling of fulfillment.

“It’s just something that dad and I have been working on since I was 9 years old.”

After his first go-kart race, a 9-year-old Brandon Brown was in tears because he finished last. He complained that the go-kart that had been loaned to him was not fast enough. Although Jerry Brown didn’t know much about racing, he saw the passion in his son and bought a go-kart.

So began a journey that saw father and son embrace Saturday in Victory Lane.

They had been together for nearly every race until Jerry was found to have cancer last year. That and COVID-19 protocols kept him away from the track.

Brandon said last year that if he won a race without his father, it would be “bittersweet.”

Treatments worked and allowed Jerry to return to the track each week to watch his son. A recent checkup also was good.

Getting to share Brandon’s NASCAR win in person, stopped Jerry Brown.

“It’s bringing me to tears just thinking about it,” he said.

His eyes watered. He looked away.

Nothing more needed to be said.