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Win One for Me, Daddy

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The 1987 season was a tough year. Up to that point, I was at the top of the world of racing. I had won three NASCAR Winston Cup championships. I had won about seventy races in NASCAR Winston Cup and many poles. Racing had been very good to me. But in 1987, I was with a new team, and things weren't going very well. It had been expected that this new team would go gangbusters. We were the dream team. I had the best backing from the Hendrick Motorsports Group, an excellent sponsorship, and the best engine builder in racing. However, going into the last part of the season, we still had not won a race. This had not happened to me since I got my first NASCAR Winston Cup win in 1975. In addition to my not winning races, we found out that Stevie, my wife, was pregnant. All of this was emotionally tough for me. Stevie had three miscarriages previously, including one in 1986. She had never been able to carry a baby to full term, and I felt badly for her. I leaned on her so much. She is my best friend and had always been with me at every race.

Now she was not able to go to the track each weekend with me. That was difficult. Stevie has always been such a part of my life and my racing career. We had always gone to races together. I had not experienced life at the track without Stevie. I have been deeply in love with her since we met in high school back in Owensboro, Kentucky. She has stood by me with much encouragement through the ups and downs and boos and cheers of fans. She had set a new standard in racing by being a part of my race team on Sundays at a time when women were not allowed in the pits. It was tough on me to be racing without her there.

On September 17, we were blessed with our first child, Jessica Leigh. We were very excited! I had to leave to go on to the next race later that week. The race was at Martinsville, Virginia, where I had won several times before. But I had no expectations of winning this time. As the race progressed I really had no hope of winning, as I was a lap down with just twenty-five laps to go. Dale Earnhardt was leading. When he stopped for fuel, I got back on the lead lap. Then a caution came out with about seven laps to go. On the restart, I was in third place behind Earnhardt and Terry Labonte. Both of these guys were previous champions and were tough, hard racers. There was no way I was going to get by them with just a few laps to go. They could make it very difficult to get around them. On the final lap in the final turns of 3 and 4, Terry had gotten up beside Dale and left just a little opening for me to pass both of them, beating them to the finish line. I won my first race of the year! It was much more special, though, than just being my first win of the season and my first victory with the new team. For earlier that Sunday morning, appearing from nowhere, I was surprised to find a little rosebud in the seat of my car with a note that said, "Win one for me, Daddy!" My first race of the season was sweetened by it occurring on the same day that I was first called "Daddy."


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