Last fall, with 100 laps left in the Monster Energy Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, I started trying to coax my 80-year-old mom, as originally planned, on to a golf cart so she didn't have to walk all the way back to where my car was parked with her asthma and two artificial knees. She was freezing, shivering underneath the jacket, wool hat and gloves I had provided her, after protesting initially she didn't need them.  

Darkness was setting in and it was getting colder. Still, Marie Garrow remained in her seat, unwilling to leave and I couldn't understand why. I kept pleading "come on mom if we don't do this now you'll have to walk almost a country mile" and she wouldn't budge.  I finally gave up, sliding into the vacant seat beside her and worrying more about what I was going to do with her after the checkered flag than the race itself.

Meanwhile, on the track, Chase Elliott had shoved his way past Brad Keselowski to take the lead and it was beginning to feel like Elliott was about to finally win his first Cup race. It wasn't long after that, however, Denny Hamlin spoiled the Georgia driver's victory lane party plans and I was right in the middle of a crowd that was going absolutely nuts.  Suddenly, the home state hero Hamlin was public enemy number one and the fans were all too ready to play judge and jury without calling a witness.

They never sat down the rest of the race and my mom was right with them, leaning heavily on her cane, refusing to use the seat I had bought and, like the others around her, booing at Hamlin every lap as he went by.

When the race ended, it didn't seem to matter to the fans who ultimately won - in case you forgot it was Kyle Busch - they were rooting for Elliott to go after Hamlin on pit road and he didn't disappoint them.  When they looked up at the big screen and Elliott had his finger pointed in Hamlin's face they howled their approval and threw even more insults at the FedEx Toyota driver.  Surprising to me, even my mom joined in, leaving out, of course, some of the more colorful adjectives and adverbs. This elderly lady was fired up.

All this was an unusual experience for me since I'm usually snuggled up in either the PRN broadcast booth, press box, or infield media center. Normally, I'm far removed from the fans and any reactions, good or bad, they're having as a race unfolds.  The grandstands at Martinsville Speedway were rocking and with almost primal screams the crowd was voicing their displeasure. 

It opened my eyes and ears to two things I had almost forgotten about having been broadcasting NASCAR races for over 35 years. First, I was reminded once again how passionate our fans can be when they're given a reason to care. Secondly, they favor good sportsmanship above all. They're good with someone giving another driver the bump and run to win, but to crash or totally run over the leader that's another story. Elliott has a lot of supporters, but it appeared to me he gained a ton more with the fans of other drivers jumping over to join their protest. It's not like Hamlin's fans bonded with all the people booing, but they also offered no defense. Even they felt their man shouldn't have crossed that line.

After Elliott told Hamlin to take a hike, only then did the stands start to empty and my mom was ready to abandon her spot in turn one. She was unwilling to wait the 30-minutes it would take for the golf carts to get running again and we began a slow limp back to the car. It took a while, but we finally made it. With her face and nose frozen red, we headed home, stopping just a couple miles down the road at a local Sheetz to get her a hot chocolate.

Sitting at a little table, sipping from her Styrofoam cup, my mom decided it was time to come clean.  She informed me ever since Rusty Wallace had retired, she had not really picked out a new "favorite driver", but had decided recently to throw her support behind Chase Elliott, telling me he was a good-looking, humble kid with the potential to do big things. She liked how he raced and handled himself outside the car.

Then came the kicker. "I know you couldn't understand why I wanted to stay until the end, but I thought I was going to see Chase win his first race and I wanted to be able to say I was there when he did it," she confessed.

Alas, it wasn't to be.

With Elliott winning three races lately my mom is certainly a happy camper but still laments about how neat it would have been for her to witness his first checkered flag at a cozy place like Martinsville Speedway.

I'm not a Hamlin hater and think he's one of the elite drivers on NASCAR's top circuit, yet I have to admit when I look back on that chilly evening a year ago I can't help feeling, "Dang it Denny you didn't just wreck Chase, but you ruined it for my mom too."

Boo! ??