For Those Who Don't Believe in NASCAR, Lacy Keyser Can Change That

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IJune 14, 2010

Flowers decorate the yellow-green wall.

The colors aren’t too bad, green after all his her favorite. It’s also the color of the chair she sits in while waiting. Flowers though, she’d happily trade those for car numbers or checkered flags. Except they’re at home, in a much more welcoming and comforting room.

Today her nerves are being put to the test, surgery waits in the room with the flowers. Lacy Keyser of Pueblo, Colorado is 17-years-old and admits she’s scared of getting her wisdom teeth taken out.

She knows some will think it’s minor, nothing to get too worked up about, but for her, “I am always wondering what if something bad happens?”

To ease her mind, the days leading up to her appointment are spent watching NASCAR, the one thing she’s most passionate about. Keyser’s passion is what puts her in a unique group of NASCAR fans. None of that is on her mind right now. She’s cheering herself on, saying that she can do this, she will do this, and things will be better on the other side.

It’s simple; her drivers, actually “her boys,” will help her pull through.

A few days ago she sat on her bed – after making it of course – with her laptop in hand as she tweets on Twitter, watches the TV and tweets some more until she’s on autopilot. Sometimes her mom can’t even get her attention when it’s time for dinner.

On a Saturday night in Nashville, Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag. On Sunday, it was Denny Hamlin who was first to the finish line at Pocono.

Keyser cried each time. Keselowski is one of her boys; every time one of them wins she gets emotional. When Hamlin won it was a calming reassurance.

“Seeing them doing so well made me feel less nervous for this,” she said. “Like saying,

‘Hey Lacy they can get their job done and so can you.’ Seeing Denny Hamlin win is another less nervous thing for me, he has had surgery too and has gone on to win races. It shows me that yes surgery is scary but you can do it, be strong.”

Strong is the only way that Keyser will live her life. Truth is, it took her a long time to get reattached to NASCAR, and to the drivers she cheers on a weekly basis. It was Dale Earnhardt Sr. that brought her to the sport, like many others, after watching the 1998 Daytona 500.

The excitement of the Intimidator’s first Daytona 500 victory drew the young girl in. She shared that day and many others with her grandparents, a tradition she says. NASCAR is one big family that centers on families, and Keyser has hers to thank for changing her life.

Growing up in a Jeff Gordon household brought a liking to him, but it was always Earnhardt’s driving style that stuck her the most. Then in 2000 she found another driver she felt she could start to like, but unfortunately it was going to have to wait.

On the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 Dale Earnhardt lost his life. NASCAR fans around the world mourned the loss of one of the sports greatest drivers. The Intimidator's fans began to remember their icon, as the sport tried to move on. For Keyser it wasn’t that easy and she remembers the events of that life-changing day over nine years later.

“I was really excited [about the race] because it seemed to be a DEI victory,” she said. “I remember the final laps and watched as the 15 of Michael Waltrip and the 8 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove away and the next was Dale [Sr.] hitting the wall.”

“I didn’t think too much of it because he always races hard like that,” she continued, a sentiment that was felt by many about the wreck. Earnhardt had broken ribs and raced. He’d flipped and walked away numerous times; the wreck at Daytona surely wasn’t something to worry about.

“As time went by I started to get this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach and seeing Dale Jr. running towards his dad wasn’t helping. My uncle kept saying everything was fine, I just nodded my head, but I still felt unsure.”

Hours later when the announcement was made by NASCAR President Mike Helton that “we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt,” it was the end of racing for Keyser. She was devastated, just a young girl trying to understand and deal with the death of her hero.

For the next few years she didn’t watch any races. It was just too hard to do. Her family still tuned in and encouraged her to watch, even trying to coach her into being a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan as she started to do before the 2001 Daytona 500. Keyser repeatedly said no. Occasionally though, she would poke her head into the room during a race she admits, even wore her Jeff Gordon shirt, but it just wasn’t how it used to be.

Then in 2007 Keyser suffered another loss, this time her father. At 14-years-old she had now lost two people she loved the most. The latest just made Keyser more depressed, understandably so. This was the time that she said, “I wouldn’t do anything to be honest.”

Ironically it would be death that took Keyser away from the sport, and then eventually brought her back. During the 2007 season Earnhardt Jr. – the driver that she said no to being a fan of – was in the midst of contract talks. Would he stay or would he go from Dale Earnhardt Inc after a year of war of words with his stepmother.

“I remember sitting there watching him [Earnhardt Jr.] talk about his dad and it got me thinking,” Keyser said. “I thought, ‘I can’t keep being like this, I need to live, my dad would want that.’ It finally opened my eyes and after years of saying I would never like Dale Jr. I gave in.”

The following year, 2008, Keyser said she was finally able to go back to being herself. NASCAR became the center of her life and the times of missing races were over. Of course, the Monday postponed races she’s forced to miss because of school are frustrating and her family and friends risk having their heads bit off if they try to pull her away for anything else. “I hating missing races, you have no idea. If I know I’m missing a race I get very, very grumpy … I always hate my Sprint phone, which has in car audio free, so if all else fails I just listen to that.”

As for the drivers she has come to love, there are a few different ones and she isn’t ashamed of it, plenty of love to go around. Earnhardt Jr. became her No.1, then there’s Tony Stewart who amazed her with his talent, and of course Brad Keselowski. The reason the young driver has her support comes from the time she remembers Keselowski trying to make it in the Camping World Truck Series.

“The reason I choose other drivers [besides Earnhardt Jr.] is because it just wouldn’t seem fun to like one and only see one,” she said. “There is some 40 other guys out there and I enjoy watching them all, some more than others. I love that they go out there every Saturday/Sunday and do what they love to do.”

Like millions of other NASCAR fans the merchandise Keyser has acquired for these drivers would take pages to list. There are hats, T-shirts, signs, die-cast cars and many more. He feelings and attitude during races are like any other fans as well, she runs around screaming on good days, on bad days her frustration is clear on her Twitter page.

She never gives up though, she’s come too far in life, “I never give up,” she says about her drivers. “I get up, brush myself off and say we’ll get ‘em next week.”

Each week she finds herself in the same spot, going through the same pre-race ritual. “Before the race I have to make my bed, make sure all my gear is in the right place, make sure my [Dale] Junior and Brad [Keselowski] pillows are nice and where they are supposed to be. I have to make sure my room is cleaned up, got to have my AMP or Mountain Dew. I also must have my teeth brushed and I got to be ready and have my 88 AMP hat on for Sunday and my [Dale] Junior shirt.”

“For Nationwide I must always wear my 12 Brad [Keselowski], Penske shirt, and 88 AMP hat.”

Listening to Keyser talk about NASCAR and her drivers makes it clear this is what she loves. Finally at peace with herself and life, knowing that every weekend she has something to look forward to. She’s one of the million of fans around the world that make the sport what it is and her story is one of the many out there that is unique to her.

Lacy Keyser is just one of the reasons to believe in NASCAR.

“Racing does a lot for me,” she said. “When my dad died it helped me get my mind off of it. When watching the Father’s Day race and [Dale] Junior win, it was a feeling I won’t ever forget. Racing helps me forget my problems, when I watch a race I get lost. I usually forget why I was upset or stressed out, I just keep watching.”

Oh by the way, she did come through her surgery … after believing that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was her doctor. 

If you would like to get to know Lacy Keyser more, follow her on Twitter @smokinace88.