Terps Driver Runs the Toughest Race
Sometimes it just pays to be lucky.
As I was heading out to interview Busch driver Donnie Neuenberger, who was raised in Brandywine and lives in Edgewater, Md., I ran into another Marylander, Jim Long of Ellicott City. Check out Jim's "do," and you'll know why I had to stop to ask him a few questions..
Not every fan is willing to go the extra mile and display "NASCAR" on his head, or, like Jim, dye his hair a different color every time he goes to a race. Still, Jim's a Maryland fan. He wants to get a University of Maryland Terrapins shell and "Fear the Turtle" put on his head for a race back home.
Donnie Neuenberger probably isn't considering a Terrapin trim. But he does wear a Terps driving suit. I asked Jim if he knew about Donnie. "Yeah, he used to do the race report on Monday's on 98 Rock (in Baltimore)," said Jim. "He's racing Busch here tomorrow?" He was surprised. He'd heard of Donnie's illness.
Donnie's on the comeback trail after hanging up his driving gloves two seasons ago to battle non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was scheduled to run the full Busch series. Instead he had to miss the action to take on the fight of his life. He endured the eight months of treatment -- he calls it "eight months of hell." Right now he's "stable," which is good enough to race.
As an independent driver, Donnie's also fighting hard to compete against the big boys on the track. He had to take a provisional for this year's Hershey's Kissable 300.
It's "very tough," he says. He estimates he can pull together $40,000 or $50,000 to run a Busch race. The owners with deep pockets put $100,000 more into a race than that, he says.
But he's grateful the sponsors he does have that help keep him on the circuit, even if it's not for every race. He's driving the Cayman Islands car now. His main sponsor, Craig Arch, owns Bay Area Goodyear Tire stores and Arch automotive and tire in the Cayman Islands. Craig is from the Caymans, where there's a real car culture, I'm told. You can find die-cast car models of Donnie's cars down there, and one of his race cars was shipped down to display in Craig's shop.
For Donnie, it's all gravy now anyway. He's surpassed what anyone ever thought he'd achieve. "Nobody ever gave me a chance at doing well in racing. But I'm a competitive person."
"It's been a long, hard road, but I wouldn't trade any of it." Like any driver, he's got memories to cherish and great track stories to tell.
My favorite is the one where Ken Schrader once gave Donnie and some other rookies a safety tip. Schrader told them to sit in the car and reach around to find anything they could touch. "If you can touch it, it's gonna hurt when you hit it," Schrader said, according to Donnie. I took that to mean in a wreck.
Donnie's planning to run a couple of Cup races this year. Watch for him at Dover for sure. "Up there, I can get local sponsors." His ultimate dream is to run in the Daytona 500 at least once.
When he's not racing, Donnie makes regular trips to Children's Hospital in Washington to visit with the children in the cancer ward. "I can't imagine them going through what I went through as kids."
And in the Baltimore area, Donnie's got another gig: a racing show on ESPN Radio's 1300 AM station. If you're out of broadcast range, check out his Webcast:
By Mike Snyder |
February 18, 2006; 6:26 AM ET
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Posted by: Bill | February 18, 2006 11:43 AM
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