NASCAR drivers balancing fatherhood, dangerous livelihood

by | Special to

Editor's note: Through Father's Day, writers will present a series of articles portraying fatherhood and sporting figures.

Forget driving a 3,400-pound stock car at over 200 mph for a living.

The biggest challenge for many of today's NASCAR stars is fatherhood.

Juggling a demanding career as a professional athlete is a challenge for anyone but it takes a special kind of dad to make his living as a NASCAR driver while trying to raise a family.

Jeff Gordon makes race day a time with the family as well. (Getty Images)  
Jeff Gordon makes race day a time with the family as well. (Getty Images)  
In recent years there has been a baby boom in the garage area with some of the sport's best known names adding the title of dad to their resumés.

"It's given me definitely a different perspective on what's important in life," Carl Edwards said. "It's very helpful in a number of ways. It's the best thing that's ever happened to me. I'm fortunate because my wife takes care of all the difficult stuff. It hasn't impacted my schedule very much at all. I'm able to take them with me almost everywhere I go."

You would think putting himself in the middle of a dangerous sport like auto racing on a weekly basis would prepare a driver for most anything. But Edwards says that's not the case and remembers what he went through when his daughter came into the world.

"I had a lot of different emotions that I didn't plan on," Edwards said of his wife's Kate labor. "When she was born, it was like, 'Wow.' I'm focused on this baby and you have all these emotions. Then we're over there at the table and they were doing everything, cut the cord, and then I thought, 'My wife is laying right over there. Is she all right?' So then I run back over there and I'm talking to her.

"It was just a whole rush of things that I thought I was prepared for, but I wasn't. And then after that just being able to sit there with Kate and Annie. I'm sure anyone that's a parent can tell you how that feels. It's just amazing. It's a miracle."

While Edwards has had the new addition to his family change his outlook on life one way, fatherhood has affected some of his competitors differently.

"It's making me drive longer, I can tell you that," laughed Jeff Gordon, who now has a daughter and a son. "I start looking at tuitions for schools and, yeah, the bills are definitely going up.

"I think really for me, what I notice is just the pride that I take in what I do. [It] takes on a whole new meaning. I've been racing for years and my family has been involved in what I do every step of the way. So a lot of times what I did out there on the track was as much for them as it was for me."

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There was a time when Gordon was accused of becoming soft and losing his edge behind the wheel when kids came into his life. The four-time champion denies that and believes he has never lost any of his competitive juices but does recognize the difference being a father has made on his entire world.

"When you have children, it doesn't make you less passionate about what you love to do," Gordon said. "I think if anything it makes you more passionate about it. ...

"I think most people just automatically assume when you're in a dangerous sport like this that when you have children it makes you think, 'I don't want to do this.' You know, to me, it makes me even more inspired to want to do it better."

Like many of today's drivers, Ryan Newman grew up in the racing world and was encouraged in his career by his father. Now a father himself, Newman realizes the importance of nurturing his children to follow their dreams as his father once did for him.

However, Newman also understands that each child's individual wants and dreams need to be considered.

"I think everyone has heard the story, now, that when I was born my dad looked at me and said 'We have ourselves a racecar driver,'" Newman said. "My dad got me my first Quarter Midget, and I started racing at 4½.

But this wasn't something he pushed me to do. He wanted to make sure that it wasn't something he was pushing me to do, that it's what I wanted as much as him, and I did. In fact, I think he would tell you that I wasn't too happy when he tried to take racing away from me. I appreciate that, in hindsight."

Appreciating all they have in their careers as well as what has come on the personal side seems to be a reoccurring theme when drivers who have become fathers discuss the topic.

With a job that demands as much attention and focus, finding that perfect balance between professional and personal isn't easy.

"It's such an incredible time in your life to experience and the hardest thing to do is to leave," Gordon said of having children. "The toughest thing is just getting sleep. You're so excited and you want to be part of it in every way. Then you show up at the race track and you realize that you have to do your job. That makes it tough."

As if the job description of NASCAR driver wasn't tough enough.


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