Drivers recall favorite presents

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2003

ATLANTA Although most NASCAR drivers and officials have reached a level of fame and fortune few of us can even aspire to, they have not forgotten simpler times, when a single Christmas gift brought them the richest memory of all.

For example, Jimmie Johnson found a motorcycle under the Christmas tree when he was 4 years old.

''I don't remember what went on with that Christmas, but I know no other Christmas has been the same since,'' Johnson said.

For Ryan Newman, it was a tire. For Jeff Gordon it was a BMX bicycle and helmet. For Bill France Jr. it's the simple ability take a breath of fresh air.

France, the son of NASCAR founder Bill France, retired from his role as company chairman in September.

He has battled heart problems and cancer for several years and now wants to enjoy the simpler things in life.

''When Christmas comes around and you're still walking; you're not in a box, that's a good Christmas,'' he said.

''It's a great Christmas when you can celebrate it with a cocktail in your hand and a cup of coffee the next morning.''

A BMX bicycle was a favorite of Tony Stewart, but the fact his parents went out of town helped him turn the toy into a lasting memory.

''That bike was cool,'' he said. ''But with my parents away, I got to ride it in the house until they came home. That was the coolest part.''

Kurt Busch turned what was supposed to be a household chore into his favorite Christmas memory.

''When I was 4 years old, I got a go-kart,'' he said.

''My dad told me to go out and cut the lawn on Christmas Day, and there was a go-kart. What a surprise.''

And Newman will never forget a new tire he got in 1993.

''It was an MG-6 right-rear Hoosier Midget tire,'' he said. ''It came from my mom or my sister. That was something I could really use. I could also burn it up. That's like two gifts in one.''

Elliott Sadler's best memory of the holidays is watching his father, Herman, showing surprise at getting socks every year.

''One of the best memories I have of each Christmas morning in the Sadler family was when my dad would open his third or fourth pair of black socks,'' Sadler said. ''(Brother) Hermie, (sister) Missi and I would be tearing apart toys and gifts, and he'd be sitting there trying to be happy about his socks. That was really funny.''

And a lasting memory.

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