A passion for racing a common thread on Valentine's Day

Bowman Gray StadiumGrant Halverson/NASCAR/Getty Images

Valentine's Day. A day of love.

While most of the stories about Valentine's Day focus on a romance between two people, this story is about the love of racing.

For the three men still living who recently were inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, their love of NASCAR and motorsports has a foundation in their roots.

Richard Childress used to walk 4 miles to sell peanuts and popcorn at Bowman Gray Stadium in the 1950s. Rick Hendrick went to races at South Boston (Va.) Speedway as a kid. And Mark Martin has known nothing but racing his entire life.

Just where did they get this passion? It's a love story.

Hendrick's father worked with some local drivers, and all Hendrick can remember is wanting to go to the racetrack.

"I would go to the shop when I was 8 years old," Hendrick said. "Friday nights [were spent] at Richmond and Saturday nights at South Boston, and if you got to do something really special, you got to go to a NASCAR race.

"The first one I remember was Hillsborough [in North Carolina]."

When he was 27 years old and wanting to do something special for his parents, Hendrick got them tickets to Daytona.

"Growing up as a gearhead, you saw me working on the car ... that's all I really cared about," Hendrick said. "I was ADD off the chart. I loved working on the race cars, being around the cars, and NASCAR was the epitome of racing."

The first job for Childress in racing was the selling of concessions -- he got to keep 2 cents for every box of popcorn and 1 cent for every bag of peanuts he sold at Bowman Gray.

"We'd walk over there to the stadium and try to hang out with the drivers and follow somebody in or jump the fence or whatever we had to do to get in to get a job," Childress said.

"You might make 75 cents or a dollar that night. It was good money back then."

And there was no way to sell food during the race itself. So Childress would just watch. And, as he put it...

"I fell in love with racing," Childress said.

Childress idolized those with last names Myers and Wood. He wanted to be like them.

"You couldn't sell nothing when the race was going on, so I would sit down and watch my heroes. ... I knew then that's what I wanted to be -- a race driver someday," Childress said.

While Childress was never all that great as a race car driver, he found that being an owner could pave his way to a successful career.

Martin knew he could do it by driving. Well, he thought that until he was fired from his first Cup ride in the mid-1980s, at least. By that time, he felt he had no choice but to try to continue to make it as a driver, even if that meant racing in the American Speed Association.

"Racing was my passion," Martin said. "The easy thing to do was to go to the trucking company that my dad owned and go to work there. I had no interest in that trucking company. The only thing I knew was racing.

"It was really, really, really difficult. I found an owner that was willing to build two ASA cars ... but the days of free cars were over. That's how far down I was. We didn't have much to go on, but I was very grateful for the opportunity to start back."

Martin found himself back racing in Cup a few years later and eventually a Hall of Famer.

"My heart was not set on coming back to Cup racing," Martin said. "It was set on establishing a solid career. I had a family that I had to support, and I needed a solid career."

Current drivers have similar passions. Brad Keselowski grew up in a racing family. But when asked about why he loves racing, Keselowski actually refers to a quote from his current car owner.

When Roger Penske tells him that the best thing about racing is that they get a scorecard every week, Keselowski agrees.

"Motorsports has a natural every-day scorecard that gives you a goal to achieve every day, and when you combine that with the other inherent aspects of teamwork, mechanical engineering, talent that it takes to drive -- all those things together add up into this big pile of awesomeness for me that makes me love this sport," Keselowski said.

That scorecard can be read on a curve. A driver knows how to read those results beyond the number.

"I love the fact that every day I wake up and get in the race car, I know whether I've done well or not," Keselowski said. "I know. At least I know in my heart.

"There's been times I felt like I won a race and felt like I didn't do that great a job and there's been times I ran 30th and felt like I did a great job. It can be both."

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