Race Weekend Central

Eyes on Xfinity: Eric McClure – “The Accident at Talladega Changed Me”

Describing Eric McClure as a family man, a man of experience or a man of faith will only brush the surface of what truly defines the 36-year-old Virginia native.

Above all, he prefers to be called blessed.

Growing up in a racing family, McClure has early memories of witnessing his favorite driver Richard Petty edge Cale Yarborough to win his 200th and final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 1984.

“I’ll never forget Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough, on the weekend Richard won his 200th race, spending time with me when I was four years old in the garage area,” McClure said Friday at Watkins Glen International. “My family was just fledging and just trying to get started. I remember those were my dad’s heroes.”

As his racing passion grew over the years, McClure today finds himself in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, appreciating every race weekend and every lap he turns on the racetrack.

“It’s one of the most fun places we go,” McClure said of the legendary Watkins Glen circuit. “It’s challenging and enjoyable because you’re always doing something and feel like it’s kind of a wild card for our series.”

Appreciating your ride is something every driver simply does. For McClure, father of six daughters, a scary crash at Talladega Superspeedway in 2012 utterly changed how McClure looked at racing and life. McClure was caught up in a multi-car crash towards the end of the NXS race and made contact with the inside wall on the backstretch at a high rate of speed. He was transported to the University of Alabama Hospital at Birmingham via helicopter after the wreck.

McClure suffered a concussion as well as other internal injuries, which caused major side effects for him later on. He mixed six races that season while recovering.

“The accident at Talladega changed me,” he said. “Certainly the illnesses that I had in subsequent years were a result of some of the treatments during that process. Physically, I’m not the same. I’m not the same person I was at certain aspects, not just the arthritis but just some things are different.”

McClure suffered from arthritis in his back and feet following the injuries.

Among the changes since the crash that left him concussed and internally bruised, McClure can no longer ride on rollercoasters with his daughters.

“Disney World has become our thing,” he said.” And racing down there twice a year (Daytona and Homestead) is kind of our excuse. I’ve noticed, as a result of that accident, I can’t ride rollercoasters. I’ve tried to stand the test of time. I used to own the Goofy rollercoaster and even now I can’t do that.

“I’ve tried to be a tough guy and prove to my wife and everyone I can do that because, as my children have gotten older, their first time on a little rollercoaster, than a big rollercoaster, I wanted to be able to share in that moment. I don’t have permission from my wife to do that anymore.”

“Those things are just little minor reminders here and there that there was an event in our life that has changed things,” McClure continued. “But at the same time, we try to have as many special moments as we can and our lives are full. Little things like that aren’t that important.”

To think the lack of fast and bumpy theme park rides are the extent of the pain, think again.

“We went through a really dark time, I’m not going to lie,” he said as he searched for words. “It was the most challenging time of our lives. From family life, to what happened at the track, and there were a lot of dark days through that process.

“It’s hard to put into words what we went through and some of that I wouldn’t share. If you ever heard me speak at a church or outreach event, you would hear certain aspects of that. I’m just glad to still be here having fun.”

McClure puts his life firmly in the hands of NASCAR safety, knowing that the implementation of the SAFER barrier likely saved his life that day in Talladega.

“Fortunately, it wasn’t worse,” he said. “We’re very thankful that NASCAR – they talk about all the safety things now and yes, you can never be too safe. On a side note, I’m tremendously thankful for the SAFER barriers that Talladega had implemented at that point, and all the work NASCAR has done over the last 15 years.”

The danger, the life-changing disturbance and the dark days leave you asking if the love of racing is even worth it. For McClure, that’s a question he’s been balancing for years – but for now, the answer is still yes.

“I’ll be honest with you, there was a time that it was very close to not being worth it,” he said. “If you’re a human being, it doesn’t matter whether its a racing environment or work, or whatever aspect of your life is affected, you cant help but ask those questions.

“There was a time that we questioned: When does the risk and the reward not match up anymore?”

“There was an article written last year that said I was going to retire,” he continued. “The answer to the question wasn’t exactly that cut-and-dry. As I went through last year and I got healthy and everything became normal – I started to have fun.”

McClure pointed out a conversation with his second-oldest daughter about when he thought about easing his on-track duties.

“My second daughter is getting ready to turn seven and when I told her that daddy might not race much anymore, it broke her heart,” he said. “Because that’s what she knows. She has the sweetest little personality and I thought, this is what they know and this opportunity has been given to us and at this point we felt like we needed to continue.

“Until God, Reynolds Wrap or Miranda (wife) tells me different, then I feel like we need to be here.”

Christianity is a massive part of McClure’s life. Joining the likes of TriStar Motorsports teammate Blake Koch, Michael McDowell, Josh Wise and many others in the garage area, McClure calls his faith the “foundation of everything” for him.

“At home, on the track, off the track – with some of the injuries and illnesses I’ve been through – that allowed us to understand that we’re not in control of everything that happens,” he said. “Certainly with the racing – racing is a short time. We compete to the best of our ability with the means we have. But we’re also out there on a professional platform to be judged by folks that may not know the whole story or base success on wins and losses.

“So if you have a good day or a bad day, our faith allows us to put that into perspective and understand that this is a short time and it’s serious and it’s a business, but at the end of the day, it’s a game. Whether you win 10 championships or nothing, it’s going to end one day.”

For many in the NASCAR community, the Motor Racing Outreach – which was founded in 1988 – has been a perfect organization for Christian drivers.

“Motor Racing Outreach is incredible,” he said. “I love the times we’ve been able to have at the Outreach events and our small groups.”

Koch, McClure’s teammate, is a great friend who shares the Christian faith.

“Blake and I are pretty close and have been for several years,” he said. “He’s a good teammate, a good friend. Guys like that that share the faith are people because of the MRO, because of doing the small group thing at the track.”

McClure has also grown close to 2000 NXS champion Jeff Green from a professional standpoint.

“He filled in for me when I wrecked (at Talladega in 2012),” he said. “Jeff gets in my car and the car runs the same. And him being a champion and knowing the career he had, was a shot in the arm for me, a real confidence booster.”

Having close relationships at the track is something that comes with age. Being around for more than 10 years like McClure will naturally bring respect and a few more friends on a weekly basis.

However, McClure’s favorite trackside guests are his six daughters who recently came out in stride at Daytona International Speedway.

“Daytona is the only time we’ve had all six (at the track) but five several times,” he said. “It’s always an event because Miranda likes to dress them up and try to take two or three of them on the stage and two or three in the truck for the parade lap just to do that. They’re sweet, pretty little girls and I’m sure most people would rather look at them than me.

“They enjoy it, I enjoy having them here because I miss them and we try to do as much as we can,” McClure said. “I would describe six daughters – it’s incredible, there’s nothing like it – but I like to use the term ‘organized chaos.’”

Although an interesting endeavor, McClure says the kids at the track don’t bring any motivation. Instead, they bring a level of perspective as to what is really important in the life of a racecar driver.

“Having them additionally helps keep things in perspective,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what happens out here, it doesn’t matter what a person says about me. You look at this industry, you might have a bad day at the racetrack. But when you leave here, you go home, those girls think you’re the greatest thing in the world. In their little world, there is nobody they love more than you and there is nobody I love more than my wife and those girls.

“It helps keeps everything in perspective that this is a game – it’s serious – but when this is over, this is over,” McClure said, continuing to emphasize his family’s impact. “When they’re at the track, that process speeds up. They want to tell you everything that just happened in their day the last two hours while you were racing. They don’t know what happened on the racetrack,  they know that daddy is safe and that he got out fo the car.

“I personally like having them there because it’s easy to take this stuff way too personally – what happens on the racetrack. And it will consume you if you don’t have a good balance.”

Even behind the wheel, McClure tries to stay cool in the helmet, even in the moment of competition and speed.

“In that moment, you’re still competitive,” he said. “I take everything that happens seriously and I feel like, when you’re in our situation, you want – I’ve been doing this for 10 years – and you want that respect from folks. Sometimes you don’t always get that – it will upset you.”

A weekend that many cannot help but become consumed in is the long and taxing Speedweeks in Daytona in February. In 2014, McClure teamed up with Bob Jenkins to fill the dream of starting the Daytona 500. Although fortunes didn’t line up, as the No. 35 entry did not make the event, McClure finds the opportunity a hidden blessing.

“The experience was incredible because it was the best opportunity I’ve ever had to make the 500,” he said. “And because of that, I’m not going to tell you that it didn’t hurt. I mean, that one hurt for awhile. We had such a good car.”

“Bob Jenkins is a first-class individual, he’s a really good man and you don’t find good, honest people in this sport like him anymore,” said the 36-year-old driver. “You just don’t. He’s a great man, he gave us a good opportunity and we should’ve made that race. Because of he capabilities we had throughout that whole week, the disappointment was greater.”

Would McClure want to have another crack at the Great American Race? Oh yeah.

“As a driver, yes. I want to make the Daytona 500,” he said. “At the end of the day, doing this for 10 years, that’s not going to be the single defining moment if I don’t do it again.”

Starting out with a Richard Petty fandom as bright as his racing future, to teaming up with veteran car owners in the past 10 years, McClure today can say he has fans of his own and a racing team of his own in Martin-McClure Racing.

“It’s surreal,” he said of having fans of his own. “I have a core group of fans and it’s very humbling to see that. But when you go in and see people drag your cardboard cut-out posters or have your old autographed cards from back in late models, it’s a reminder that I’ve been around for a long time.”

“It’s really humbling,” he continued. “I love interacting with those folks because the only thing that differentiates me then somebody that’s sitting in the grandstands is an opportunity.”

His K&N Pro Series East team, Martin-McClure Racing, kicked off at Iowa Speedway on July 31 where his driver, Chad Finchum, drove to a 27th-place finish.

Teaming up with a close friend and past TriStar teammate Hal Martin made the experience both appreciative and informative.

“Hal is one of my closest friends,” McClure said. “Our families have become very close, they go on vacation with us to Disney and we’re just really close. It makes my appreciation for owners greater. I come from an ownership family, but I was never involved at that level. It makes you appreciate the challenges and difficulties of teams bringing out cars – especially in today’s NASCAR, where is not as easy for new teams to start up. It’s an incredible feat to bring racecars to the track.”

Eric McClure has seen the worst the sport of NASCAR can offer. The criticisms attached to message boards have taught McClure about perception. The massive Talladega crash in 2012 taught him about determination and strength while his wife and six daughters made him realize and remember what’s really important at the end of the day.

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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Great article, glad things are progressing for the good. What a beautiful family.

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