KANSAS CITY, Kan. — In the moments following Victory Lane selfies, high-fives, trophy hoists and winner press conferences, the two Furniture Row Racing teams gathered in the motor coach lot to raise a high toast to James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator with the team who died Saturday night in Kansas City after suffering a heart attack.
It was an emotional day for the crew, who worked alongside Watson and were so heartbroken with the situation.
It also was an emotional day on the good side considering the trophy haul by driver Martin Truex Jr., who has now won seven races in 2017 and continues to position himself as the driver to beat with four races remaining to crown the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
It is a wonderfully timed reason for this tightly knit group to smile on a weekend otherwise so sad.
“Today was a challenge, for sure, with all the obstacles we faced, all the adversity we had to deal with,” Truex allowed. “But we just kept our heads down, kept fighting, found ourselves in the lead late and took advantage of it. Happy for everybody, all my guys. It was a tough day for them, losing one of our teammates last night. For all of us, just come together and talking about, ‘Hey, let’s go win this one for Jim.’ We did it. Feels good.”
Crew chief Cole Pearn, the leader of the team, was emotional after the race. He’s had to deal with an unbelievable amount of emotional adversity this season, from losing his best friend the week before the Watkins Glen race (which Truex also won) to recently having to put his 13-year-old dog down to now enduring the loss of a co-worker while on the road. And, of course, Truex’s longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex is currently undergoing another round of chemotherapy while battling ovarian cancer.
“Still pretty surreal at this point,’’ Pearn said of dealing with such a sad situation Saturday night then acknowledging what would normally be a joyous win Sunday afternoon. “We were kind of all focused on what we had to do today. We knew that was the best thing we could do for Jim. He’s a true racer in the purest form and I know that’s what he would have wanted. To be able to get to Victory Lane is a silver lining for sure. Still a pretty tough day.’’
A tough day that at least ended in a positive manner.
Based in Colorado — the sport’s only team headquartered west of the Mississippi River — Furniture Row Racing has proven itself the gold standard this season.
It is even more remarkable considering the emotional tugs it has had to navigate.
That Truex and the team succeed on track while dealing with such heavy and emotional things away from the track is special and noteworthy. And perhaps defining.
The tougher things get, it seems, the better this group performs.
“For me personally, I think over the years I’ve definitely gotten better at being able to get in the car no matter what’s going on in the outside world or in my life, to get in there, turn my focus to just what I have to do in the next couple hours,” Truex said. “It’s just another example of doing that, focusing on my job.
“The best we could do for him is win for him, win in his honor. Just celebrate his life, what he meant to us.”