At 7 p.m. on Saturday night, seven-time Supercross champion, Jeremy McGrath, participated in the first stock car race of his career. While previously competing in spec truck events at Irwindale, California, off-road truck races in the desert, and celebrity road course events in Long Beach, this conquest would be a horse of a different color. You see, stock car racing emerged and prospered in the south. Entering in a Late Model contest in North Carolina is like entering the 250 Expert class out at Lake Elsinore. The local stock car contingent is experienced, skilled, and very serious.
JR Motorsports unloaded three cars in the infield at Southern National Raceway Park. The first two cars numbered #71, and #73 didn’t draw much attention, but when they rolled out the all-black #72 ride, the attention of the infield was quickly and permanently fixed in its direction. Who were these guys with the flat billed Monster hats? Why were all of those television cameras and microphone booms following around this stranger with the fuzzy chin? These questions were snapped up with quick replies. If you listened closely enough you could hear the chatter and about every ten seconds you could hear someone say, “That’s Jeremy McGrath, man.”
It’s hard to say if Jeremy has ever been this far out of his element. The all-time king of supercross was feeling a noticeable sting of pressure. You could see it in his mannerisms as barely a smile escaped his normally relaxed cheeks. After qualifying 22nd he would take the green flag for the first of two 75-lap feature events. Both races are points paying events in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series presented by Dodge. The same series drivers like Denny Hamlin and my own brother Clint Bowyer used to claw their way to the Busch series and beyond.
When the final checkered flag flew Jeremy had driven his way to 15th and 13th place finishes in a field of 25 very fast cars. The venture went as good as Jeremy or JR Motorsports could have hoped. He was a hit with the fans and he drove smart and got faster with each passing lap. But perhaps the most important thing was that when he climbed out of the car after his second race he wore an ear to ear smile and said, “Hey man, I’m just as fast as those guys. Wait till next time.”
Stay tuned for more of the story in the upcoming issue of Racer X Illustrated.