TALLADEGA, Ala. — Never underestimate how far a father will go to be there for his son.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the Geico 500 at Talladega on Sunday afternoon, his first-ever win at NASCAR’s highest level, and many of the most important people in his life surrounded him: his crew; his owner, Jack Roush; his girlfriend, Danica Patrick. He’d won at the closest track to his hometown of Olive Branch, Mississippi. All was right, except for the fact that his father wasn’t there.
And then Ricky Stenhouse Sr. arrived, and oh, did he have a story to tell.
The elder Stenhouse was watching his son race from behind the fence outside Turn 3. (No offense to young Ricky, but when you haven’t won any races in 157 Cup-level attempts, folks don’t continue to assume you’ll end up in victory lane every race.) When Stenhouse wheeled around Kyle Busch for the victory, his father first attempted to climb the fence that surrounded the track. This, of course, is a very bad idea.
So he set off running, jogging around the perimeter of the 2.66-mile track until he reached the Turn 4 tunnel … which, unfortunately for Stenhouse and unlike many tunnels, has no pedestrian access. A couple police officers spotted him, put him in their vehicle to … let’s say “catch his breath,” and then figured out who he was. “Our security guy said, ‘take him to victory lane,'” said Russell Branham, Talladega’s PR chief, “and that’s what happened.” Stenhouse the Elder arrived in time to give his son a hug amid the confetti, and that’s all that matters.
Plus, it turns out this isn’t the first time these two have climbed fences in exultation before. After an ARCA series win in Kentucky, Stenhouse and his father both climbed the backstretch fence and met at the top in celebration.
“My dad has done so much for me in my career,” Stenhouse Jr. said after telling the fence-climbing story. “Everything that I’ve learned is from him, and making sure that you have the right people around you is one of the things that he’s all about, making sure that you have people that respect you, that will do anything for you, and man, he sacrificed a lot for me.”
It’s paying off. Ricky Stenhouse Sr. will now get the chance to climb a fence in the All-Star Race, and after that the playoffs. This could be the beginning of a strange and unlikely tradition.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.