NASCAR stars shine off track for Ohio boyWritten by Dave Woolford | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It was a weekend that will forever go unmatched in the life of 12-year-old Dakota Williams, the events of which couldn’t have been any more heartwarming had they been planned with the utmost detail.
Dakota is a young man who was born with muscular dystrophy. He is confined to a wheelchair and is ventilator dependent. Dakota, along with his father, Wayne, and mother, Heather, were among the guests of a company that rents an infield suite at Michigan International Speedway for the purpose of entertaining customers on race weekends.
When Wayne was invited to attend the NASCAR Nextel Cup Citizens Bank 400 two weeks ago at MIS, he requested a ticket for his son, stating that, because of his son’s special needs, there would be the need for an elevator to get Dakota up to the suite, located just behind the pits.
That proved no problem. The family was going to leave from their home in London, Ohio, the morning of June 17, but left, instead, the night of June 15 and stayed with friends when they discovered that there would be a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on June 16 followed by a free Montgomery Gentry concert at the track.
Dakota is a big country music fan.
On the way up to Michigan, the Williams family stopped at a Wal-Mart store and purchased a miniature, No. 99 Carl Edwards racecar. Why Edwards?
“It was kind of odd how we picked that car. I guess I thought we might have a chance to meet him,” said Wayne, who claimed to be a “mediocre” NASCAR fan whose favorite driver was Greg Biffle. That since has changed.
When the concert ended that Saturday night, Eddie Montgomery wiped his sweaty brow with a towel and then threw it into the audience. While fans tugged and pulled to gain possession of the towel, a slightly inebriated fan standing near Dakota, said, “Hey, this young man deserves that towel more than anyone else in this place!”
Everyone agreed and Dakota got the towel. A short while later, an MIS representative asked Montgomery if he would autograph a picture for Dakota. Montgomery graciously agreed.
The next day at the NASCAR Nextel Cup race, the Williams family was fortunate enough to have “The King,” Richard Petty, visit their suite before going up the stairs to the roof for a better view of his race team.
With people mobbing Petty for an autograph, Wayne waited until Petty climbed the stairs to the roof and then asked Petty if, when he had time, he could sign an autograph for Dakota.
“I kind of felt sorry for Petty because everyone wanted his autograph or their picture taken with him,” Wayne said. “I didn’t know what to call him, Mr. Petty? Richard? Or what, but when he saw Dakota, he came right down the stairs, signed an autograph, had his picture taken with Dakota and the smile on Petty’s face was very genuine.
“Dakota didn’t know who he was. I told him he just got his picture taken with a legend.”
After the race, the Williams family hung out by the narrow opening in the fence that leads to the driver’s privately parked motor homes.
They were in awe: “There goes Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wasn’t that Tony Stewart? Hey, there’s Jimmie Johnson.”
“It took a while to kick in that we were seeing all these famous drivers,” Wayne explained. “My wife said, ‘There goes Jeff Gordon, let’s ask him for his autograph.’ I said, ‘He’s too far up (in notoriety). He won’t stop.’ ”
But when Gordon saw Dakota, he motioned to the fellow driving the golf cart Gordon was on to stop. Gordon walked over to Dakota, signed his autograph, offered Dakota a picture and spent about five minutes with him. “Gordon was just awesome,” the elder Williams said.
It gets better.
“We waited and waited to see Carl Edwards [who had just won the race],” Wayne said. “It was so hot, but Dakota wanted to wait. We definitely knew Edwards was in his motor home. Then we saw him come out and we waved to him. Carl motioned for us to come to his motor home. We looked at the guard and he said, ‘Go ahead.’
“Carl came up to us and asked Dakota how old he was, if he had a girlfriend and spent at least 10 to 15 minutes talking to Dakota while signing the car we got at Wal-Mart.”
It gets better.
Edwards then asked the Williams family if they could hang on for a couple more minutes, saying he had a souvenir in his motor home that he wanted to give Dakota.
When Edwards reappeared, he apologized, saying, he would have given Dakota the trophy he had won that day, but he had already given it to his father. After all, it was Father’s Day.
But Edwards had something else that he laid across the tray on the front of Dakota’s wheelchair. It was the fire suit Edwards wore during the race. He had signed it across the chest. It said, “Dakota, You’re The Man. Carl Edwards 2007 MIS Winner.”
When he handed the fire suit to Dakota, Edwards said, smiling, “This is worth about $5,000. You’d better not sell it.”
The Williams family was awestruck — again.
“There was no one there with him, just us,” Wayne said. “He didn’t do that for publicity. He did it because he wanted to. To get his autograph and then for him to do that … Wow!
“My wife was not a NASCAR fan. She is now. She found her driver. We’re all fans of the 99 now, but Biffle is a close second.
“Everyone at the track was so generous and super nice. It was just an awesome experience.”
At day’s end, Dakota was so tired that his father took him out of his wheelchair and laid him on the floor of the family’s van for the trip home. Dad was well aware that there were at least 99 reasons why there would be a repeat trip for the August NASCAR Nextel Cup race at MIS.