Does Parenthood Change NASCAR Drivers?

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IMarch 15, 2009

There seems to be a rash of new babies being born recently into the NASCAR family.  Just this week, David Starr, driver for HT Motorsports, and his wife Kim announced the birth of David Starr, Jr., their first son.

"I know that everyone says that having a child truly changes you and it really does", said Starr.  "Just looking at him makes me so happy".

Another new recent dad is Michael McDowell.  He and his wife Jami had their first child as well.  Weighing in at seven pounds, seven ounces and born at seven o'clock, Trace McDowell became another new "fan" in the NASCAR racing community.

Every new parent knows that having a child, especially their first child, is a huge adjustment.  But for a NASCAR driver, putting your life in danger each race and traveling all over the ends of the earth from track to track, there tends to be an even more challenging adjustment to parenthood.

Just ask three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip about how parenthood changed his life.  In his autobiography, Waltrip shares that he "was more cautious because up to that point I never believed I had much of anything".

Waltrip goes on, "I never thought about getting hurt, but then after we had our daughter....it changed the way I drove".

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon does not think the birth of his daughter Ella Sofia has necessarily changed the way that he drives.  In an interview with Sporting News, Gordon stated, "I may sound like a terrible father, but when I start the engine and put the helmet on, I'm not thinking a whole lot about family at that time".

Gordon continued, "But I can tell you that the second that checkered flag was waving (after the first Duel at Daytona), the first thing on my mind was that I can't wait to see Ingrid and Ella in victory lane".

David Starr also acknowledged the dilemma, along with the excitement about the birth of his son.  "People claim that when a NASCAR driver has a child it makes them soft, but I am so proud of him I want to strive harder and be better to make him this proud of me".

While having a new little one around the motor home may not affect a driver's style out on the race track, it most certainly may affect how rested he is before getting behind the wheel. 

As for every new parent, even a famous race car driver becomes instantly sleep deprived with the arrival of their new bundle of joy.

Jeff Gordon comments, "I'm not used to getting up at 6:30 in the morning.  I'm showing up at the race track trying to hold my eyes open because I'm sleep deprived".

Lack of sleep is not the only challenge that these new race dads and moms face.  There is also that struggle to get into some type of routine, especially exacerbated by the vagaries of travel and being continually on the road.

New parents in the NASCAR community have to learn how to constantly switch their focus, from parenting to driving and back to parenting again. 

They, like other parents, have to learn to prioritize what is most important and make that extra effort to build in quality time with their baby, spouse and other family members.

So, does parenthood change NASCAR drivers?  While some drivers admit to being slightly more conservative out on the track, others say that their resolve is only strengthened by this new being in their lives that they desperately want to make proud.

One thing is for sure.  Every new NASCAR parent will now experience the highs of their child's first steps and words and the lows of a colicky baby or yet another sleepless night.

Welcome to parenthood all.

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