I remember the first time I went to New Hampshire was in 1997, when I was seven years old. My family camped out by turn two, back there behind all the midway activities for the weekend. We were there for the weekend and watched the modified race, the Busch North race – at the time that’s what the K&N Pro Series East was called – and the Cup race. My family actually still has a photo album of the trip. I got pictures of the cars when they came out and practiced. Looking back on it, I guess that really was my first memory of NASCAR racing. It’s cool that I remember it, but I think everyone remembers the time you go to your first NASCAR race.
One thing I remember is when I got to meet Jeff Gordon that weekend, which was awesome because I grew up a huge Jeff Gordon fan. He was leaving an appearance and I was one of those people that kind of sat there on the side, waiting for him to come out. There he was and I got a picture with him. It’s funny – I still have the picture. We talked about it and showed it on a couple of NASCAR shows last year when Jeff was doing his farewell tour. My Mom’s thumb got over the lens of the camera, so it’s one of those pictures with a thumb in it. My Mom got Jeff to sign the photo a couple of years back and she framed it for me with another photo of Jeff and I sitting on the pit wall before driver intros. It’s a pretty cool memento and something that links one of my first memories with where I am today.
To me, New Hampshire is something special. Really special. Every driver out there has their favorite track and a place that means more to them than others, even if they don’t always tell you. New Hampshire is that place for me. I guess it started when I was just a fan and I went to that race and met Jeff Gordon. Then, when I moved into driving, things still just happened there. I started my first Sprint Cup race there in the No. 96 car back in 2008. Then I won my first Sprint Cup race there the next year in the No. 20.
But the most memorable moment to me was when we won there a couple of years ago in the fall race of 2014. That win was hands down the coolest win of my career. The Daytona 500 was neat. I mean who doesn’t grow up wanting to be a racecar driver and not want to win the Daytona 500. But the New Hampshire win beats it in my opinion. I think you can start to see why. For one, it’s my home track. Any win any driver gets at their home track is special. That is why my teammate Brad Keselowski wants to win at Michigan so bad. It’s on every driver’s bucket list. On top of that, it was the most challenging, most difficult track I went to as a driver. I sucked there. I literally did not know how to go fast. I remember one time we unloaded there and I started complaining about how bad the car was. Then, I look up and we were P1 on the board. I said, “I don’t know how to do this then. I don’t know what to tell you, because to me, it drives awful and we’re fast.”
So over time, I started figuring out that I need this and I need that, and got the car kind of feeling the way it’s supposed to. I had a lot of conversations with my crew chief Todd Gordon and we’ve worked together to make it better. Eventually, we conquered the hardest track for me – and my home track – so it’s all just worked out and it showed on the track.
That win in 2014 was just awesome for me personally. I don’t ever get out of the car at the start finish line (after a win). I just want to get to Victory lane and celebrate with the team. But that was one of those moments where I thought: “I’m getting out of the car, I’m standing on top of it, I’m going to enjoy this moment.” It’s going to be hard to have a win that’s larger than that.
Something else that I love about New Hampshire is the fans. They love NASCAR racing and racing in general in the Northeast. It’s what got me to be a fan of the sport. I hope they grab some tickets (nascar.com/tickets) and come out for an amazing weekend of racing when we go back up there this weekend. You go to Loudon as a New England guy and those are your people.
So we try to take advantage of every situation when we’re up there to look for ways to help, especially with the “Chasing Second Chances” initiative through the Joey Logano Foundation. We did our golf tournament in Connecticut with the spring race, and a lot of people were able to come to it. To me, all of this racing stuff is great and all, but it’s a platform to change people’s lives. I feel like it’s my calling. I’m supposed to use that.
It’s a privilege to have that opportunity to do what you’re supposed to do in this world. So, yeah, I want to win races and I want to win championships, but I want to do something more with the platform that God’s given me. So through the Joey Logano Foundation and through the Chasing Second Chances program, we’re trying to give people another shot at life in the New England area who were the victims of something out of their control or just made a bad decision and are working to make their life better.
In all honesty, the whole Chasing Second Chances throughout the next nine weeks (of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup) is a big deal. A lot of cool things for the next nine weeks.
(As told to the NASCAR Wire Service’s Reid Spencer.)