You can’t take them out to a nice breakfast without them making a scene.
Pinterest, Pee Wee Herman impersonations, long-winded speeches, impromptu volleyball games, battering around a boat racer while racing U.S. Army tanks, growing sunflowers, grandmas and moms kissing the drivers, and one champion wearing a necklace featuring a . . . um . . . raccoon’s penis – yes – were the topics obsessing the Don Schumacher Racing drivers Thursday morning at the Performance Racing Industry Show’s Grand Opening Breakfast.
The seven tattletales had an amusing time dishing on each other Thursday morning, getting the massive three-day trade show off to an uproarious start at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis.
Emcee Ralph Sheheen actually opened the floodgates of fun, gathering yarns about the drag racers – about each other – beforehand to stoke the storytelling. But each was happy to confess to some surprising indulgences and peccadilloes.
First, the raccoon story . . . As Matt Hagan explained, race-car drivers have some loyal, passionate fans all too crazy-eager to present their favorite drivers with heartfelt but occasionally unusual gifts at the racetrack. Hagan said a fan at Bristol, Tenn., presented Antron Brown with the necklace.
“I’m a country guy – we hunt and fish. And I thought, ‘I know exactly what that is,’” Hagan said. “So Antron puts it on and says, ‘Man, thank you, brotha. Thank you so much.’ And I’m like, ‘Antron, don’t you know what that is, man? That’s a raccoon pee-pee, man.’ People do it for luck, right? People kill raccoons and hang ’em [the . . . ahem . . . offending parts] in their rear-view mirrors. They have bones. Most mammals have bones.”
By then, Brown was leaning away from Hagan and giving him a look as if he had smelled a dead raccoon right then and there. Hagan said, “So I said, ‘Antron, you might want to take your necklace off, brother.’”
Brown said, “When Matt told me that, I said, ‘How does a raccoon’s penis give you good luck?’ Think about it – I am from New Jersey. We don’t even touch raccoons. So what I did for driver intros that morning was I said, ‘They’re all laughing at me. The joke’s on AB.’ Well, I had that necklace in my pocket. I just kept rubbing on it on my hand. And I shook every one of my competitors’ hands: ‘Good luck, good luck, good luck.’ And you know what? We won at Bristol that year, too. So it did bring a little luck.”
Only slightly less creepy was the image on the stage’s big screen of Funny Car’s Ron Capps dressed as Pee Wee Herman – a move Capps explained only as “We were drinking.” Then again, he and Brown found themselves engaged in a couple of mutual interfamily crushes.
“Capps’ mom loves me,” Brown said. “She hugs me. She kisses me. She don’t kiss me on my cheeks. She kisses me on the lips. And I looked over at Capps one time, and I winked and said, ‘If this was a different time, you might be calling me Daddy.’ The worst part of it is it came right back on me. We went to Maple Grove. My grandmom is standing next to me. Capps gets on the mike – and this is a crazy thought to be in your mind. It hurt me. It messed my whole mind up. My grandmom goes, ‘Lord, that Capps just does something for me.’ I’m like, ‘Say what?!’ Then I look over at Ron, and Ron winks his eye back at me. He goes, ‘How ’bout Granddaddy, Big Daddy?’”
Leah Pritchett’s mom just might have to arm-wrestle Antron’s grandmom, because according to the Top Fuel driver, her mother, too, is crazy about Capps.
Pritchett tipped off Sheheen that Funny Car racer Tommy Johnson Jr. makes bespoke candles from discarded wine and beer bottles. Johnson said yes, he does that – and he made his own bedroom furniture and outdoor coolers and is building his mother a headboard.
“I know it’s not the male thing to say, that you’re hooked on Pinterest. It’s amazing what you find on there,” Johnson said. “I make candles. My favorite app is Pinterest. I’m proud of it. My wife made the mistake of turning me on to Pinterest. A lot of times I’ll be in bed at night, looking at Pinterest. You never know what you’ll find. It inspires me.” As his teammates laughed, Johnson said, “Trust me, they’re going to come back and look at it, and they’re going to have their own folders.” Hagan piped up and called Johnson “the Martha Stewart of Motorsports.”
Hagan, whose own nickname is “The Hulk,” took a ribbing from Sheheen for “not wearing the right-sized T-shirts.” Hagan is a married father of four. But he discovered a tip for any single guy who is wanting to become a chick magnet: grow sunflowers.
“I grow hemp, and I got to learn about the types of chemicals and metals and different things that are in the ground and being able to plant something that pulls stuff out of the ground,” Hagan said.
He had a plot of soil on his Southwestern Virginia farm that apparently had been tainted before he bought the property with heavy metals and arsenic. “I got to learning about planning stuff to pull these concentrations out of the ground,” he said, “so I planted some sunflowers.
“You would not believe the women that wanted to come to my farm,” Hagan said. “They wanted to take pictures and [have] weddings. All this time when I was younger, trying to hustle girls, I should have just planted some sunflowers. They would’ve come on. I had no idea that’s all I needed to do. Women love sunflowers.”
Funny Car ace Jack Beckman needled good-naturedly, “I thought growing pot and heavy metal went hand in hand.”
Women love sunflowers, but Pritchett loves volleyball. She carries her shoes and gear and has been known to drop in unexpectedly on a local volleyball match or two when she travels.
Beckman, who also was ragged on for his seemingly endless speeches but lauded for his love of drag-racing history, loves photography. But his U.S. Air Force superiors didn’t appreciate that about him. After he snapped some photos of fighter planes on the flight line, a security police office at Beckman’s newly assigned base confiscated the 18-year-old airman’s camera and ripped the film from it, leaving him wondering if he was going to get tossed from the service. He survived the incident and rose to the rank of sergeant as he spent three and a half more years in the military.
Speaking of the military, Tony Schumacher said he still loves and is proud of the U.S. Army that sponsored his dragster program for 19 years. He did admit that when he was overseas, in Afghanistan on a goodwill tour, he did a little Army tank racing. It was all fun and games – until decorated offshore powerboat racer Nigel Hook got a bit banged up.
“Tanks are cool,” Schumacher said. “They’ve got brakes like nobody’s business. When you grab and handful of brakes in the sand, they stop – really well.”
Schumacher was commanded to stop the tank immediately. Hook, mind you, owns an INC-500 data analytics and software engineering firm, earned an MBA and a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Staffordshire University in England, and lives in tony Del Mar, Calif. But evidently all his accomplishments didn’t prepare him to protect himself inside a U.S. Army tank. Schumacher said, “Nigel Hook had his face in the turret, and he wasn’t holding on very well. Two black eyes.” Oof.
Maybe Hook should have had one of those necklaces from Bristol, Tenn.