Humility, loyalty and emotion are just as big a part of Jamie McMurray as being a good racer

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As uplifting as Jamie McMurray’s win Saturday night in the Sprint All-Star Race was, even more heartwarming was the emotion the Missouri driver showed after the race.

The tears that welled up in his eyes, the hitch in his voice when he got choked up, and the honest and satisfied smile on McMurray’s face weren’t because he won $1 million.

On the contrary, they were pure, raw and unadulterated joy of someone celebrating a job well done.

And that indeed is what McMurray did so well Saturday. Even though the outcome didn’t affect his current 24th place ranking in the Sprint Cup standings, and even though the win didn’t help qualify him for the revamped and expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup, you likely would not have found greater joy, enjoyment or appreciation for what McMurray did then himself.

“It means something here,” team owner Chip Ganassi said of Charlotte Motor Speedway in the post-race media conference. “There’s something a little special about the All-Star Race, too, I think, that nobody is out there points racing. It’s hammer down there with 10 to go. I think we saw a special kind of racing tonight, and we’re all very lucky to see that.”

McMurray is the kind of guy parents want their daughters to marry. He’s honest, down to earth and, most importantly, humble. And it’s that kind of humility that have left McMurray as one of the most well-liked and most respected drivers in the Sprint Cup garage.

For you know when you talk to him, or when you see him express himself emotionally like he did Saturday (as well as in several other key race wins he’s had in his career), you know it’s coming from the heart. It’s not contrived, fake or a false attempt to get attention.

“He said to me in victory lane tonight, ‘We’ve won a lot of great races together, haven’t we?’ I said, ‘Yes, we have.’ You know, it was kind of special for him to think of that, as well, because he’s that kind of guy. He understands what it takes to be in this sport and be a driver.”

McMurray now adds one of the biggest race wins any driver can earn to an already burgeoning stable that includes a past triumph in the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and the fall Chase race at Talladega.

And while he’s had his struggles this season, with just two top-10 finishes in the first 11 races of the 2014 Sprint Cup season, McMurray personifies the human element that NASCAR officials like to boast about so much.

Not only is McMurray a devoted husband and great father, when he is at his best behind the wheel of a race car, he’s very hard to beat.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason – be it mechanical, wrecks or just a horrendous spate of bad luck – McMurray hasn’t had a whole lot of instances where he was hard to beat.

But there’s more to him than just being a race car driver. He represents himself and his race team well. As I mentioned earlier, he represents great family values. He also represents what hard work – and particularly not burning bridges – can do for you.

When McMurray left Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006 for Roush Racing, it was primarily because McMurray felt he’d have a better chance at success driving a Ford.

Unfortunately, that situation went four seasons but just didn’t quite pan out the way everyone had hoped it would. As it turned out, McMurray wound up being released by Roush.

But because he never burned any bridges with Ganassi, because he didn’t badmouth anyone at his old team, one of the biggest rarities in motorsports, particularly NASCAR, occurred: Ganassi brought McMurray back for a second go-round.

That kind of thing is virtually unheard of. It’d be like Roush or Roger Penske asking Kurt Busch to come back to their old stomping grounds. It just isn’t going to happen.

But McMurray is such a loyal soldier, someone who it’s hard to believe ever has a bad word to say about anyone, that he’s a credit to an organization more so as a man than a driver. He exudes an air that the average fan not only likes, but finds refreshing and compelling.

McMurray is also loyal, almost to a fault. Like a puppy, he never forgets those who have done well by him. Not only is he forever in their debt, he also respects and appreciates what others do for him, such as Ganassi.

And that is not overlooked.

“It’s nice to have a validation from time to time of your MO,” Ganassi said after the race. “It’s nice to ring the cash register, if you will, from time to time in this business to let you know that you can still do it, and the way that you operate the business, the way you motivate your team, the components you put together, the people, all those pieces that have to come together. Sports teams are a very delicate balance of personalities and equipment, and it’s nice, like I said, to validate that from time to time.”

Whoever said you can’t go back home again doesn’t know the special relationship that McMurray and Ganassi has. Sure, it’s steeped in racing, but that’s only a small part of a bigger, broader and more important picture.

“The thing about Chip with me is he’s my car owner, but since I came back in 2010 Chip is one of my best friends,” McMurray said. “When we talk during the week on the phone, we talk a little bit about racing, but we talk more about families and anything but racing.

“I’m so glad that Chip and Felix (team minority owner Felix Sabates) are here and I get to share this with them because they were in Daytona, they were in Indy, and when I look back at those races, the memories of Chip being there are really special to me.

“Chip is somewhat unique I feel like in racing in general because most car owners have a separate business, and they don’t depend on racing to put food on the table, where Chip is all about racing. You know, he did a book a while back of his hundred wins, and I got to be a part of that, and when I look back at some of the memories of my racing career, almost all of them I’ve experienced with him, and that’s really special to me.

“When I pulled into (victory lane and) got up on the stage, I gave him a hug, and I’m like, ‘Man, we get to have another one of these incredible memories together.’ It’s a great relationship, and I feel so blessed to get to share that with he and Felix.

“It’s tough when things are going bad, but I’ve got to live some of the greatest victories that you can have in this sport. It’s unbelievable.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Dodge to celebrate 50th anniversary of Hemi motor at NHRA U.S. Nationals

Photo courtesy Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
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When this year’s NHRA U.S. Nationals plays out from August 29 through September 3 at Indianapolis Raceway Park, a lot of folks are going to be channeling one of the most famous lines in motorsports:

“Hey, that thing got a Hemi?”

Dodge and parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Thursday – on National Hemi Day, no less – announced that it will celebrate the Hemi’s 50th anniversary of Super Stock cars with the 18th annual Dodge Hemi Challenge during the U.S. Nationals.

Cars that will take part in the Challenge will be 1968 Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda cars – “The most iconic of the Mopar package cars,” touted a Dodge press release – in a head-to-head battle.

The Dart and Barracuda were purpose built for use solely on a drag strip. The 23 entrants in the Challenge will drive their personally owned versions of the ’68 ‘Cuda and Dart.

The winner of the Challenge – which will be held August 30-31 – will take home a $15,000 purse, while cash rewards will be available for all 16 drivers that qualify for final eliminations.

“The Dodge brand is proud to serve as title sponsor of the NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge, an event that spotlights the legacy and power of the 426 HEMI engine,” said Steve Beahm, Head of Passenger Cars, Dodge//SRT, Chrysler and FIAT, FCA North America.

Beahm added, “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda Super Stock cars that debuted back in 1968 and are still competing today, which makes our support of this edition of the HEMI Challenge extra special.”

One special incentive for contestants is the 42.6-pound NHRA Dodge HEMI Challenge trophy, created in the spirit of the 426 (cubic inch) HEMI engine.

Jimmy Daniels has won the Challenge the last two years and goes for a three-peat in this year’s race within a race. His father, Jim Daniels, won the race in 2010.

The Challenge’s all-time winningest driver is Charlie Westcott Jr. of Parma, Michigan, who captured the Challenge in six different years: 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

Follow @JerryBonkowski