Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Frances Among Several Families Searching for Strength While Facing Tragedy

Sports can seem so trivial at times. We look to racing, baseball, football, et al as an escape from our everyday grind; a rough week at the office can be forgotten for three or four hours on a Saturday or Sunday while we immerse ourselves into a reality that doesn’t parallel our own. An afternoon spent on the couch watching the guys go in circles or hitting the perfect golf shot, while only temporary in its relief, can be satisfying in its own voyeuristic sort of way.

However, the tragic events of Tuesday, when a small plane manned by Dr. Bruce Kennedy and Michael Klemm crashed into a suburban Orlando home, killing five people, made the events of this past weekend’s Daytona thriller seem trivial at best. Kennedy was the husband of ISC President and NASCAR executive Lesa France Kennedy, while Klemm was a NASCAR Aviation pilot.

The tragedy is borderline surreal to the families of Janise Joseph-Woodard and her 6-month-old son, Joseph. The two sat in the comfort of their home, as safe a place as any of us can imagine, unaware of the twin-engine Cessna barreling down on them. Totally unaware, also, was the Dechat family. Peter and Milagros Dechat’s neighboring house was engulfed in flames upon impact, seriously injuring the couple and their 10-year old son. Their daughter, 4-year old Gabriela, did not survive.

With all this serious news going on around you, it is easy to get caught up in the drama that is NASCAR or Major League Baseball or whatever your passion may be. We tend to overanalyze the trivial, glorify the undeserving and, in general, lose focus on the fact that sport is just that: sport.

Our colleague and friend Matt McLaughlin knows this all too well. Matt’s mother lost her battle with a lengthy illness this past Saturday. On a day when many celebrated a thrilling race and an unlikely victor, the events rung hollow for Matt and his family.

He wrote to the staff here at Frontstretch shortly after his mother passed and offered up a prayer that now seems appropriate to share in light of this week’s events:

“Goodbye, Mom. I loved you more than I could have ever told you. Now that you are in Heaven and with Dad again, please ask the Lord to give me and my sisters the strength we need to get through this week.”

We can only hope that the France, Dechat, Woodard and McLaughlin families are graced with the strength Matt prayed for. The editors, staff and contributors at Frontstretch send our deepest sympathies to each of the families that have suffered such terrible losses this week.

On a website and in a column that normally exalts the fun the sport of auto racing brings into our lives, it may seem trite to shift gears from such a somber and real issue as human lives lost to questions concerning the goings-on in NASCAR. However, this is a Q&A forum; therefore, we shall proceed.

Q: I thought I would give you a heads up: Earnhardt fans are not the only ones who dislike Jeff Gordon. When you go to the next race… look around. You will see fans wearing gear of almost every driver booing him. He thinks the track belongs to him, every driver should just move over and let him pass and God forbid someone touches him or races him hard!

Perhaps since Dale Earnhardt Jr. has the most fans, he (and we) get the blame for any negativity on the track. Ain’t true McGee! JG is just a universally disliked driver, and that is the truth. Don’t just lump all the childish, immature behavior on Junior or Senior fans, as there is enough to go around. Thank you. – Virginia R.

A: Still can’t figure out why so many dislike Jeff. Let me share a quick story: I was in the garage at Michigan two years ago during a Saturday practice session. Jeff was in his garage stall talking with the crew, busy making adjustments and doing whatever the hell they do. Anyway, this lady and her two sons, probably eight and 10-years old (don’t ask me how they got in during the Hot Pass period), were standing outside watching intently. The lady suddenly bolts into Gordon’s stall to ask him to come out and sign some autographs and say hello. She is quickly barked away by a crewman and returns to the boys.

10 minutes later, with the kids still standing across the way, Gordon comes out, kneels down, pats them on the head, signs the autographs and talks to them for a couple minutes. Now, was the lady out of line by going in in the first place? Yeah. Was it one of the classiest acts I’ve seen out of a driver who did not have to take time out of his work to speak to a couple kids? Absolutely. My level of respect went up 10-fold for Gordon that day.

Q: Budweiser to Evernham? Doesn’t Kyle BUSCH and Bud make more sense? Or here’s a quick thought: Bud sticks with Dale Jr. because it’s a match made in heaven (or hops). – Mark J.

A: Ah, the rumors they are a’swirlin’! I hear Budweiser would like to align with Kasey Kahne, but Evernham has to get Dodge to sign off on it first, and they’ve already turned down the same offer from Coors in the past.

As for Junior, it’s time we all accept the fact he he will no longer run the familiar red Budweiser scheme.

About the author

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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