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Tuesday, March 23, 2010
NASCAR fans are devoted

By Hampton Stevens
Special to Page 2

NASCAR fans
NASCAR drivers and fans have always had a close relationship that's sometimes even bizarre.

Who is more relentless: Jimmie Johnson, who won yet again at Bristol, Tenn., this past Sunday, or the NASCAR fans who cheered him on in the cold, wet weather?

It might be the fans. Johnson, after all, was warm and dry the whole time.

For proof of fan devotion, witness Andrew Giangola's new book, "The Weekend Starts on Wednesday: True Stories of Remarkable NASCAR Fans."

The book, Giangola's first, describes in glowing detail the bizarre, hilarious, occasionally poignant stories of NASCAR most fanatic. Giangola would know, being a bit bizarre and hilarious in his own right. After all, this is a guy who put a picture of himself, toothless, in his own book.

A New York native and Fordham grad, Giangola doesn't mind looking foolish. Once, moments before a black-tie dinner with NASCAR headman Brian France, Andrew discovered that moths had chewed holes in his tuxedo pants. "I found a thick marker," he told Page 2, "And colored my legs black. No one knew except my dog the next morning."

In the two years he spent writing his book, Giangola says, Mike Wright might have been the most passionate fan he met.

A bearded, 40-something long-haul trucker from a one-stoplight town in Virginia, Mike has seen hundreds of races -- and has become renown as the kind of guy who occasionally brings his homemade spirits to the track.

Jimmie Johnson
NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson signs autographs for fans.

In the book, Wright tells a story of a gas leak at a motel outside Darlington, S.C., the night before a race. The alarms went off, and authorities were ordering the guests out of the hotel. Wright found his tickets and race scanner, then ran outside in his underwear. Nothing else.

"I could go to Wal-Mart to buy clothes, " he said. "But I couldn't get more race tickets."

Since Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch contributed to Giangola's book, and Brian Vickers gave it a sweet back-cover plug, Page 2 asked those drivers to give us their own favorite stories of crazy fans.

Stewart started.

"At a USAC Midget race not too long ago," he said, "I was sitting in my car, firesuit on, helmet on, buckled up. I'm ready to go out on track for the feature. Some lady shoved a cap and a Sharpie in my face, wanting me to sign it. I'm getting ready to be pushed on track and someone's asking for an autograph? It shocked the heck out of me. It certainly wasn't the smartest move, but it was definitely one of the craziest."

Kyle Busch said fans ask him to sign everything -- including body parts. Biceps, backs and even butts. But there are some signatures that Busch hopes aren't made permanent. "Especially right after the movie 'Talladega Nights' came out," Busch said, "I had people asking me to sign their baby's forehead. I'm like, 'Are you sure?' "

Brian Vickers said the craziest fan story was the one he didn't know until it was over.

"There was a person who created a fake profile of me [on Myspace], and a female fan started conversing with this someone she thinks is me. It must have gone on for weeks," he said. "One Monday we came into work, and there are all these phone messages asking where I am, what I am doing, why I am not there and saying we would have to pay for this. On and on."

Vickers said he had no idea what this was about but soon found out.

"Apparently, the person who was supposedly me on the Internet had convinced the girl to take a trip," he said. "She paid for it, showed up and I was nowhere to be found."

Hampton Stevens is a contributor to Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. He also has written for Playboy.com, Maxim, Atlantic Online, the Kansas City Star and many more publications. He lives in Kansas City, Mo., with his girlfriend and two dogs.