Fifteen-year-old Jeffrey Buzzell loves fast cars and the work that goes into making them run. But nothing gets his motor going like watching his favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. So when the Make-A-Wish Foundation arranged for Jeffrey to fly from Maine to North Carolina to meet Junior, he was speechless. The two bonded over their love for NASCAR and shared a special weekend together -- one that Jeffrey and his family will not soon forget.
Jeffrey's mother, Ruth Buzzell, discussed the highlights of her son's My Wish experience with ESPN.com.
How did Jeffrey become a fan of NASCAR?
His uncle and his Dad have done some racing in the Bangor, Maine, area so he grew up around the sport. Even my brother-in-law and some of our cousins used to race on the small local track. Jeffrey and Jeff also used to go to Loudon, New Hampshire, every year. They'd leave on a Thursday and stay right through the weekend!
Why Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Well, his sisters grew up fans of Dale Earnhardt Sr., so when he passed back in 2001, it just made sense to start following Junior.
How did your son find out that he would be meeting his sport's idol?
The producer wanted Jeffrey and his friends to meet at a go-karting place in Bangor. They were told that they had to watch a special on go-kart safety, and Jeffrey kept saying, "Why do we have to do go-kart safety? We know how to drive go-karts." ... He didn't have a clue. I mean, he watched the tape twice, and it finally sunk in that he was going to North Carolina to meet Junior in person.
What was your first thought when you found out he'd be getting his wish?
I was overwhelmed. It was just such a special, special moment because Jeff has always wanted to meet him.
What was Jeffrey's reaction when he first met Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
We came in a limo, and Jeffrey got out of the car first so I couldn't really see his face, but he said right then and there, "If this was the only part of my wish, I would be happy!" The rest of the weekend was just a bonus, icing on the cake for the whole family.
Sounds like go-karting on Junior's property would be a blast!
I watched, but it looked like fun. He has a small track that he calls "Little Bristol," and it was Brad [Keselowski], Junior, my husband and Jeffrey all racing. Jeffrey took the checkered flag but he was in the No. 3 car, so I'm not sure if that was set up or not [laughs].
How did Jeffrey and Junior interact with each other?
Actually, I found Dale to be shyer than Jeffrey. I don't know if he's always like that, but he was definitely acting a little timid. But he was great with him. I mean, he took right to him. ... We just met all those guys, but they were down to earth and friendly.
Jeffrey also got to tour the team garage at Charlotte Motor Speedway. What was that like for him?
The crew chief let Jeffrey sit in Dale's stock car, so he got in and he thought it was so comfortable! He said, "Mom it's like it was fixed for me!" But all of a sudden the car was swarmed with cameras and people. "Dale's in his car! Dale's in his car!" ... My husband stopped one guy and goes, "No, that's my son in that car!" It was really funny. I think a reporter snapped a photo and ran a small story on the mix-up, touting Jeffrey as Dale's 200th Make-A-Wish kid.
Yes, Jeffrey was the 200th kid that Dale Earnhardt Jr. met through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, so they really wanted it to be special. He met Brad [Keselowski], Jimmie Johnson, Richard Petty, Joey Logano. ... We couldn't have asked for any more. They went all-out.
Do you notice a lift in his spirits after going down there and having such a great NASCAR experience?
Oh yeah, a lot more. Just his expressions and the way he carries himself -- it's unreal. Dale took Jeffrey right under his wings. It'd be nice if we got to meet him again, but who knows.
Take me through a typical Saturday or Sunday race day at your house.
Most the time, we tape the race because it's easier to go through all the commercials and stuff [laughs]. We go camping every weekend, so if it's on a Saturday night, the campground rents a big screen down in the pavilion.
But most the time, we just have our own little TV and, of course, we do a pool. We all pick a driver and then, at the end of the race, whoever wins gets a little bit of money. Most of the time we don't care who gets the money, though. We just root for Junior.
But he hasn't won in about two years, right?
Yeah, I don't know what's going on. But we have noticed that -- and I'm not saying we have anything to do with it -- but since we left North Carolina, he has been in the top 10 [three times]. So we're hoping...
Maybe you guys are his good luck charm.
[Laughs] That's right! We can only wish.