A.J. Foyt.

Indy provides a treasure trove of memories for Cup drivers

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The memories range from sitting on the couch to a father/son trip and from hearing a grown man say “here kitty, kitty, kitty” to seeing that same man climb a fence.

Regardless the recollection, the memories all point to one location.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As the track prepares to host a historic doubleheader on its road course with the NTT IndyCar Series (noon ET Saturday on NBC) and the Xfinity Series (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC) and then host the Cup Series on the oval (4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), Cup drivers shared some of the special memories they have of the famed speedway.

One of the memories that stands out to Jimmie Johnson, a four-time Indy winner making his final Cup appearance at the track, is watching the 1982 Indianapolis 500. That race that saw A.J. Foyt exit early because of a mechanical issue and then take a hammer at his car to fix the issue. But it was more than that moment that remains with Johnson. 

“I was on the couch with my father and grandfather,” Johnson told NBC Sports of that day. “Their opinion of A.J. and how he handled the situation and took the bull by the horns. (It was) like a guy/man moment with my father and grandfather watching (Foyt) work on his car like he did. I have a lot of warmth inside of me when I think of that moment.”

For 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman, who grew up about 150 miles north of the speedway, his first memory of the track was when he was in grade school and his father took him to the Indianapolis 500. It was rare to have a free weekend even then because Newman often was racing quarter midgets. Only thing is, Newman didn’t see the race. The race was rained out. The experiences there would get better, especially in 2013 when he won from the pole. “That was an amazing weekend,” he said.

Tony Stewart climbed the fence after his 2005 Indy win. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Joey Logano, who seeks his first Brickyard 400 win after finishing second there last season, thinks back to the 2007 race. As Tony Stewart chased Kevin Harvick for the lead, Stewart keyed his radio and said “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” It was a line Stewart used from time to time when he had a strong car and was closing on the leader. Most times Stewart celebrated a win after uttering that line on the radio during a race.

Stewart is at the center of the memories for William Byron, who won the 2017 Xfinity race at the Indy. Byron recalls the first time Stewart won the Brickyard 400 in 2005. Stewart celebrated by climbing the fence. “I thought he was going to fall,” Byron said. “The fans were going crazy. … It was such an awesome moment.”

For Kevin Harvick, who won the Brickyard 400 in 2003 and last year, many early memories center around Rick Mears, who also is from Bakersfield, California. Mears is one of three men to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. 

“As a kid it was always a dream to go to Indianapolis and race IndyCars,” Harvick told NBC Sports. “Going to Indianapolis and racing stock cars is still a huge thrill for me. To go there and race on the racetrack that was your childhood hero’s place to be successful and really make a name for himself, to go there and and do that for yourself is pretty special.

“Sometimes you just have to kind of pinch yourself and say, ‘Man am I really living all that out?’ Being able to win at Indy a couple of times now and to win last year, for the first time with the whole family there and to have that iconic picture of the trophy and my family … is something that you can’t replace.”

For others, the memories that stand out are when they got on track at Indy.

“You’ve got to pinch yourself every now and then the first couple of laps around Indy because you’re like this is pretty damn cool,” Corey LaJoie said.

Kurt Busch during the 2014 Indy 500. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kurt Busch, who will make his 700th career Cup start Sunday at Indianapolis, competed in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and then the Coca-Cola 600 later that day.

His Indy experience was special but he admits that his laps around the speedway in an IndyCar during qualifying remain vivid.

“Going 230 miles an hour for four laps,” Busch told NBC Sports, “why I decided I was going to jump into an IndyCar I’ll never really quite understand other than I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to go fast.”

 

Northwest racer Brittney Zamora progressing in K&N West competition

Photo by Nigel Kinrade Photography/NASCAR
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Stock-car racing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about the Pacific Northwest, but make no mistake, despite being the only region in the continental United States without a NASCAR national series race, the Northwest has produced plenty of talented drivers who achieved success in NASCAR’s highest levels.

Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Mike Bliss and Derrike Cope are all drivers who once called the Northwest home, and Kennewick, Washington’s Brittney Zamora hopes to become the next Northwest racer to become a NASCAR star.

At age 20, Zamora may be a NASCAR K&N West Series rookie, but she enters the series with an impressive racing resume.

Born into a racing family, Zamora began racing karts at age four. She went on to race in the Northwest Super Late Model Series, where she would win Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, and won championships in 2017 and 2018.

Zamora’s success in late models led to the opportunity to drive the No. 99 ENOS/NAPA Filters Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing this season in the West Series, as well as on part-time basis in the East Series. Through seven K&N West Series events, Zamora has four top fives, five top 10s, 26 laps led and one pole.

“It’s been a pretty good start,” Zamora told NBC Sports. “A lot of people have expectations for me to go out there, but my expectations for myself are a little higher. I’m disappointed that we haven’t gotten that win yet.”

Regardless, Zamora believes she’s on the right track. When asked what grade she would give her performance this year, Zamora gave herself “a B+ or an A-.

“For our first year in the series, and with the competition out here, we’ve done really well progressing and achieving our goals,” Zamora said. “We’ve already met a lot of our goals and we’re only halfway through the season. As long as we can keep improving and keep setting those goals and reaching for them, (we’ll be fine).”

Zamora insists she would have never made it into the sport without the help of her racing hero.

“A lot of drivers get asked ‘who’s your biggest idol in racing?’ and they’ll say A.J. Foyt, Dale Earnhardt, one of the guys in the Cup Series or someone like that. Mine would have to be my dad,” Zamora said.

“He is who got me into racing. I went to the racetrack when I was four days old to go watch him with my family. It’s been my whole life. Growing up and seeing him win championships racing super late models, I wanted to follow in his footsteps, and not only have I done that but I went beyond that with his help and support. I wouldn’t be here today without him.”

Brittney’s father, Mike Zamora, raced across the Northwest for more than 20 years. Once it was time for Brittney to move up to those cars, Mike gave up his seat and began serving as her crew chief.

In the K&N West competition, however, Mike finds himself watching his daughter race from a distance. He and Brittney still find plenty of time to talk to each other during race weekends, and Mike offers his daughter advice when she asks for it, but he doesn’t get to be as hands-on with her K&N car as he is in late models.

“I don’t mind it at all, but it was kind of hard to take a step back because with our racing, I’m so involved,” Mike said.

“I’m the crew chief. We’re building the cars ourselves in our garage. With Bill McAnally Racing, they have guys that this is what they’re doing for a living and they’re better at this than I am. It’s hard to just sit back and watch, but I know that she’s in good hands.”

Though it is too early to predict how her racing career will turn out, she is on the right track to hone her racing skills.

“I’ve thought about this my whole life because I want racing to be my career,” Zamora said. “I don’t want a normal job. I want to be in a race car. Holding a steering wheel is my profession.”

“The Cup Series would be great. It’s the highest level of stock car racing there is, but honestly if I could make a career out of racing ARCA, Trucks, or Xfinity, I would be happy. As long as I’m in a race car competing every weekend, that would be nice.”

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Cole Custer, Jeremy Clements reveal Darlington Xfinity throwback schemes

Photo: Stewart-Haas Racing
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Cole Custer and Stewart-Haas Racing will honor A.J. Foyt with a special throwback scheme for the Sept. 1 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Custer’s car will pay tribute to the car Foyt drove and flipped in 1965 at Riverside International Raceway. With his brakes failing, Foyt had no way to stop. To avoid hitting Junior Johnson’s car, Foyt drove off the track and down an embankment, flipping several times. Foyt was knocked unconscious and declared dead by the first medic on the scene. Parnelli Jones, who had fallen out of the race, saw Foyt move and removed mud from Foyt’s mouth to allow him to breathe.

Two months later, Foyt won the pole at Phoenix for the USAC Champ Car Series. He won the won that year for the Indianapolis 500 and then won the NASCAR race at Daytona in July.

Just like Custer, Foyt ran a No. 00 car in that Riverside race.

“I said after that wreck that I’d never run a number that reads the same way when it’s upside down. I only ran it a couple times, but after Riverside, that was it,” Foyt said in a statement from SHR. “Cole seems to have had a lot more luck in the No. 00 than me, or at least more starts where all four wheels stayed on the ground. But I do appreciate the tribute. I remember all my racecars, and I remember that No. 00 Ford being fast before the crash.”

Said car owner Tony Stewart in a statement from the team: “A.J. is my hero, and a great friend who I’ve known for a long time. It didn’t matter what it was, but if it had four wheels and went fast, A.J. would drive it. NASCAR stock cars, USAC stock cars, sprints and midgets, Indy cars, IMSA sports cars – A.J. won in all of them. We both kind of came up through the racing ranks in the same way. He just did it in a different era.

“I think it’s pretty cool that Cole is paying tribute to A.J. with this throwback paint scheme at Darlington. It obviously has some history behind it, and it’s probably the best example of how tough and resilient A.J. is.”

Also Wednesday, Jeremy Clements‘ throwback scheme was revealed for the Darlington Xfinity race.

His’ Xfinity car will pay tribute to 1960 Cup champion Rex White, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013.

With grandfather on mind, Jeremy Clements experiencing fruits, exhaustion of first Xfinity win

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For Jeremy Clements, one of the best things about his hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is the Peach Blossom Diner.

When he was younger, Clements would make trips to the restaurant, located on Hospitality Drive, to hang out with some of his NASCAR predecessors who also called the city home.

Nine-time Cup winner Cotton Owens and 1973 Talladega 500 winner Dick Brooks were among the patrons.

There was also the “Silver Fox.”

Clements is no stranger to three-time Cup champion David Pearson and his family. His son Ricky Pearson served as Clements’ crew chief in the Xfinity Series in 2007 and from 2010-14.

A winner of 105 Cup races, Pearson wasn’t above trying to give Clements advice on how to manhandle a stock car.

“He’d always tell me how to drive and tell me what to do,” Clements tells NBC Sports, giving an example of an exchange.

“You need to just use one foot. One foot brake, one foot gas,” Pearson would say.

“David, there’s no way you can do that anymore, buddy.”

“I’ll get in that dang car and show you.”

But when the No. 51 Chevrolet of Jeremy Clements Racing arrives at Darlington Raceway on Friday, it will pay tribute not to the career of Pearson. It will be an ode to Clements’ grandfather, Crawford Clements.

Source: Jeremy Clements Racing

The car will look like the one driven by A.J. Foyt when he won the 1964 Firecracker 400 at Daytona with Crawford Clements serving as his crew chief.

Jeremy Clements was 12 when his grandfather died from cancer, but his grandfather’s influence ultimately led to his upset win Sunday in the Xfinity Series race at Road America.

“I was really close to him,” Jeremy Clements says. “It was devastating when he passed. He’s the one that got me started. He would take my brother Jason and I to the go-kart track Buck Creek Speedway (in Chesnee, South Carolina) and race with us and do all the work and everything for years. I’ll never forget that. … I always have his name on the cars we race every week because he meant so much to me. He did a lot for a lot of people.

“He was a very smart man and I wish he was here today to see all this.”

NO REST FOR FIRST-TIME WINNERS

Jeremy Clements poses with the winner’s sticker after the  Johnsonville 180 at Road America. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Clements is very tired.

Three days earlier, in his 256th start, the 32-year-old driver became the first Xfinity competitor with no Cup experience on a team with no Cup connections to win a race since 2006.

That causes the phone to ring. A lot.

“I’ve been going after it non-stop,” Clements says. “Haven’t slept the most. Everybody wants to talk to you. It kind of wears you out, but in a good way. I’m not complaining about it.”

Clements lost count of how many interviews he’s given since he took the checkered flag at Road America, one lap after accidentally spinning himself and race leader Matt Tifft in the last corner coming to the white flag.

He was not prepared for the attention one brings by winning in NASCAR.

“Heck no, man,” Clements says. “Not at all. It’s been crazy. I went into Road America thinking that we could run really well there because we had, and I like that place and the road courses were somewhere we could always run good. But I didn’t anticipate to win the race, honestly. It’s just been insane.”

Clements has tried to keep up with all the well wishes on social media, with congratulatory messages from Brad Keselowski, Darrell Waltrip, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.

“All those meant a ton,” Clements says. “I think I missed a few.”

The “coolest” acknowledgment he received was one he couldn’t miss. On Tuesday, a goody basket full of cheese, crackers and sausages arrived.

“It wasn’t a low-end basket,” Clements says. “It was a nice one.”

The basket was courtesy of Rick Hendrick.

“First of all, I’ve never even met Mr. Hendrick,” Clements says. “Second of all, for him to even think about me was amazing. To get our address and send something to us was pretty cool. He’s one of the best team owners in the garage.”

Even as the week of celebration unfolds around Clements, the work preparing for the rest of the season does as well.

The car Clements won with, built in 2008 and the oldest of the team’s seven-car fleet by a month, was up on a lift in the shop having its engine removed.

“When I was doing my victory stuff on the front stretch, I wanted to burn that thing down,” Clements says. “But the sad truth of that is that I couldn’t. I was like, ‘heck, we’ve probably got to use this motor next week.’ I had to be easy with it and take care of it. Truth be told, that engine had two races on it before that race.”

Jeremy Clements  practices for the Johnsonville 180 at Road America. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Clements and his team don’t yet know how much their winner’s gross will be. They’ll find out Friday and instantly start spending it at Darlington.

“You need probably 15, 16 grand worth of tires there,” Clements says. “It’s going to be a good payday for sure but it’s not going to be something we can just go out and start buying cars and stuff because everything’s so expensive.

“It’s crazy how much, that’s just life in general I guess. It’s like an axle for our cars are $225 a piece and you need them every week, but that’s just one little thing, you know? It takes a lot of individual parts and all of them cost a lot.”

The team, owned by his father Tony Clements, has already made purchases they hope will benefit them in their unexpected position of having qualified for the Xfinity playoffs, which begin Sept. 23 at Kentucky Speedway.

Even before Road America they had acquired two newer composite body cars from Richard Childress Racing. They’ll first run one next weekend at Richmond.

No matter how things go for Jeremy Clements once the playoffs start, he’s “playing with house money” after Road America.

“I’m not going to get too worked up about it,” Clements says. “We’re going to go give her hell and do the absolute freakin’ best we can. But I don’t want to get too boiled up about it if we don’t do the best and we don’t make it to the next round. I’m not saying we’re not gonna, I’m just saying we’re playing with house money. In my opinion it’s just icing on the cake.”

‘LOOK AT ME. LET’S GO’

When Clements took the white flag at Road America, he started getting chills, goosebumps and knots in his stomach.

First, he had no idea how after spinning with Tifft and briefly stalling out he still had the lead. Also, as he made his final lap around the 4-mile road course, his mind began racing.

“Just honestly started thinking about what do I even do if we win?” Clements says. “What do I say and who do I need to thank?”

When he finally got to victory lane, he had the presence of mind to give a shout out to any big team owners that were paying attention.

“I want to drive for a big team, but it hasn’t been the way it’s gone,” Clements told NBC. “I try to keep doing this, to keep my name out here getting as much experience as I can in case I do get the call. To any big team guys. Look at me. Let’s go.”

For Clements, NASCAR has always been his goal since his days of watching Days of Thunder on a TV in the back of a van on the way to go-kart tracks to get “amped up.”

In the few days since his win, when not talking with the press, Clements has reached out to owners.

“They say ‘we’ve paid attention to you before,’ but at the end of the day, they need money,” Clements says. “There’s hardly anybody getting opportunities these days that didn’t bring some kind of money to get them in there. That’s the bad part about it. It’s been like that for years.”

But Clements isn’t inclined to give up on his dream, especially after the biggest win of his racing career. If his career had come to an end after Sunday, he still wouldn’t be satisfied.

“I don’t think I would be pleased until I got that break and that’s what I’m still working on,” Clements says.

But before he can continue to do that at Darlington in his tribute to his grandfather, he’s going to enjoy the perks of being a first-time winner as long as he can.

“I don’t think I’ve bought a meal yet this week so far,” Clements says. “Hopin’ to continue that streak.”

Mario Andretti named honorary race official for Daytona 500

Photo by Aaron Davidson/Getty Images for J Group
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Mario Andretti, one of four drivers to win both a Daytona 500 and Rolex 24 at Daytona, will serve as an honorary race official for the Feb. 26 Daytona 500, track officials announced Monday.

Andretti and Daytona International Speedway will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of his 1967 Daytona 500 triumph.

Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon are the only drivers to have won both the Daytona 500 and Rolex 24 in their careers.

Andretti won the 1978 Formula One World Championship, four IndyCar Series titles and the 1969 Indianapolis 500. Andretti and Foyt are the only drivers to have won both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500.

As part of his Daytona 500 duties, Andretti will be introduced at the drivers meeting, take part in pre-race ceremonies and participate in a question-and-answer session in fan hospitality areas and the UNOH Fanzone.

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