Feature Story

Jacob's Weekend To Remember

I remember the day- it was Thursday, October 12 and I had just written the Talladega preview on the site when an email came in. Tyna Bagwell explained that she would be taking her son to the Pepsi hospitality area at Talladega the following day and needed to time her visit due to circumstances. Since she would be leaving early the next morning, I replied with some info that I had gathered later that day. And I hoped that things would work out the following day. They did.. big time.

Following the Talladega weekend, Tyna wrote the following in a letter to me in which she also enclosed some pictures from the weekend:
"There are no words and no way I could ever thank you for helping us time our arrival at the track so that Jacob was 'spunky' enough to meet Jeff."

Thank you Tyna for sharing the story.

By Tyna Bagwell

My son Jacob is a typical normal child but he does not walk, run, jump, or play like most kids his age. He was born prematurely and weighed just two and a half pounds at birth. He has "lack of oxygen" brain damage cerebral palsy.

Hooked On NASCAR
When Jacob was three years old, 'Santa' stuffed his Christmas stocking with Hot Wheels cars. One was Kyle Petty's #44 Pontiac. The following spring, Jacob was watching TV and shouted, "My Hot Wheels is racing on TV!" And sure enough it was. He was hooked.

The following Easter, the 'Easter Bunny' filled his Easter basket with every NASCAR Hot Wheels car that 'she' could find. Ever since that Sunday, Jacob has watched almost every race with his Hot Wheels racing right along with the action. He soon picked Jeff Gordon as his favorite driver. I think it was due to the Pepsi commercial with Hallie Eisenberg that swayed him!

Every Talladega raceweek, we search for showcars. We've seen nearly all of them except for Jeff's and Kyle's. Jacob has such a great time with the showcars and the showcar people are the GREATEST. We even go to visit the campgrounds at Talladega where Jacob rides around in his purple power wheelchair searching for Jeff Gordon flags. He'll ride right up to people and say, "You like Jeff Gordon? I love Jeff Gordon!"

Visiting Talladega
This past spring we took him to the practice and qualifying sessions at Talladega. It was cold and wet but we had a blast. When Jeff pulled to the end of pit road before heading onto the track to qualify, Jacob lost it. He started yelling, "I SEE JEFF GORDON!" and bounced in his chair so hard that he actually broke the harness. Even the Earnhardt fans behind us cheered. Jerry (Jacob's dad) turned to me and said, "Now THAT is something you don't see everyday."

A friend of ours showed copies of "Jacob and the showcars" to a "Pepsi guy" in town. He was so touched with Jacob being such a NASCAR fan that he gave us hospitality passes for Friday, October 13 at Talladega.

The Big Day
The days passed slowly until October 13 arrived. We got to Talladega Superspeedway around Noon on Friday. Traffic was heavy, but not as bad as I thought it would be. We parked, unloaded and headed to the hospitality tents for info. There was a band playing inside for a "private" party. The guard told us that the area would not be open until Saturday. We showed him our passes with "Friday Only" on them and he took them to the office, came back and said that the passes were for a very private gathering of Pepsi folks and Jeff Gordon only, and for us to come back around 5 pm.

We rambled all over the track most of the day before qualifying. Jerry and Jacob stopped at EVERY food vendor they encountered. I tried to warn Jerry about the junk food but he kept saying, "Ya gotta try one of these" (the sausage) or "Oh buddy, funnel cake!" etc.

Lots of folks were really nice to Jacob, some even stopped us and took his picture with his Jeff Gordon outfit on, riding in his power wheelchair, and flying his checkered flag. We finally made it to "our" spot just in time for qualifying.

Tales From Souvenir Row
We had a little over an hour before Jacob was to meet Jeff Gordon so we waited for Jerry to see Dale Jarrett qualify (yes, we all root for different drivers), then we headed back down the ramp to the van. We loaded up and went to the merchandise haulers. I hit Ricky Rudd's trailer first, then DJ's, Jeff Gordon's and finally "Chase Authentics for kids."

We headed back to the hospitality tents and made our way to tent #21. We easily found a table to sit at and look around and there are only about 30 people there. And ALL of them were wearing either Pepsi or Jeff Gordon "colors." And here we sat with me dressed in black and red Ricky Rudd colors and Jerry wearing the dark blue and red Dale Jarrett colors. And then... in walks Jeff Gordon.

A Few Minutes With Jeff
Now I've got ONE HAPPY KID on my hands. Jeff made a statement to the audience, answered some questions and had everyone line up for an autograph session. Jeff was REALLY nice. He talked to Jacob, took pictures with him, autographed Jacob's hat, flag, pass, shirt, jacket, and tag that Jacob has on the back of his wheelchair. Jacob is normally a VERY talkative kid, but being that close to Jeff sent him into bashfulness. Jeff is the sweetest, nicest person! I got a real kick out of it. I didn't think Jacob had a bashful bone in his body. He thanked us for coming, and we thanked him for taking the time he took with Jacob.

We left the track when the sun was setting low in the sky. There was a thin cloud of smoke hovering over the campgrounds from all the campfires. All in all, it was really a great day.

The Next Day
But the great weekend doesn't end there. We finally found the DuPont showcar the next day loaded in the hauler and pulling out of Food World in Pell City, Alabama. We followed it all the way to Food World in Talladega. Jacob spent about an hour with it and chatted with the showcar rep.

Since meeting Jeff, the Sunday "elbow wars" at our house have ended. Jerry is really leaning toward rooting for Jeff (now that's unbelievable!) The Rockingham race in October 2000 with Dale, Jeff, and Ricky finishing 1-2-3 was great.

In closing I want to add that Jeff and his people were so very nice. It was the perfect "Friday the 13th" at the track.

Jeff and Jacob chat
"So Jacob, how would you drive into turn one at Talladega? Here's the line I've been taking..."
Words from a racing hero. Jeff has Jacob's undivided attention for a brief chat. The memory of which will surely last a lifetime
Hence the southern phrase "Grinning Like A Possum."

Picture perfect
The "rowdy" kid clams up
Finding the DuPont car
A picture with the DuPont Chevrolet

Jacob at Talladega
"I see Jeff Gordon!"

Jacob with the Pepsi golf cart
"I've got to get me one of these!"
Jacob checks out the Pepsi golf cart
Jacob takes a lap
Jacob and Jerry inside the DuPont race simulator

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Images and story copyright 2000 Tyna Bagwell.
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