Tuesday, February 21, 2017

One sweet ride for Chocolate Myers

(NOTE: Written for Winston-Salem Monthly magazine.)


One Sweet Ride for Chocolate Myers

We're catching up with "NASCAR's most famous crewman," Danny 'Chocolate' Myers

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    Winston-Salem native Chocolate Myers was born to be in racing.
    He’s the eldest son of racing pioneer Bobby Myers, who was killed while racing in the 1957 Southern 500 at Darlington. He’s also the nephew of Billy Myers, a local racing legend who earned the NASCAR National Modified Championship in 1955. Chocolate’s first cousin, Gary Myers, is a former Modified racer at Bowman Gray Stadium, and two of the track’s current stars—Burt and Jason Myers—are Gary’s sons and Chocolate’s second cousins.
    Myers’ other connection with racing is also strong. He met Richard Childress when, around age 13, they were selling peanuts at Bowman Gray so they could get into races for free. The two later began racing their own cars on Saturday nights—and then in 1969, after high school, they went racing together.
    Childress kept racing, but Myers gave up in 1973 to take care of his wife and young daughter. He took up various odd jobs to keep going. Finally, in 1982, he went back to Childress, who by then was a Winston Cup car owner.
    “I walked into Richard’s door at the right time; his team needed a gasman—and for a gasman, they needed a big guy,” says Myers, who stands 6-foot-4. “I started out passing the second can of gas over the wall. Later, I became the gasman.”
    Myers’ main duty as gasman was to empty an 11-gallon, 85-pound can of gas into the car when it pitted. Asked what he did the rest of the time for RCR, he says, “Anything and everything. Racing wasn’t as specialized as it is now, so we all did a little bit of everything. I was basically a general mechanic.”
    In 1986, Childress asked Myers to become gasman for a promising young driver named Dale Earnhardt—and the ensuing ride was nothing short of spectacular. Earnhardt would win six NASCAR championships with Childress over the next two decades, and Myers was there for all of it. He’d also win the 1998 Daytona 500, arguably the seminal moment of Earnhardt’s racing career. Myers says his favorite thing about the win in Daytona was having his wife, Caron, and daughter, Lexi, there.
    Another personal highlight for Myers was Earnhardt’s 1987 win at Darlington. “For me, it was when we won the first time in the Southern 500,” he says. “It was a big deal, because my dad had lost his life there. To be a part of that meant a lot to me.”
    Myers has countless other memories from the track, of course, but his favorite might be a race at Richmond in 1986. Some cars got in the mud, he recalls, and Earnhardt’s windshield was messy. Instead of coming off the track under caution, Earnhardt unbuckled his safety belt and slid out onto the door ledge. He drove with his right hand and cleaned the window with his left.
    “We were blessed to do the things we were able to do back then,” Myers says.
    Myers served as RCR’s gasman through 2002, the year after Earnhardt died, working with Kevin Harvick and Robby Gordon. He retired at 54 after 17 years in the pits.
    Childress would turn his old shop into the RCR Museum and named Myers its curator. Nowadays, Myers also broadcasts a Sirius XM radio show from the museum, which is part of the Richard Childress Racing headquarters in Welcome.
    Turning to Chocolate
    Danny Gray Myers, who has Cherokee Indian in his background, got his nickname of “Chocolate” when he was 12 because someone thought he had a dark complexion.
    “I played little league football for the Tiny Greyhounds in Winston-Salem,” Myers recalls. “I always had a dark complexion. I went out for a pass once, and a coach yelled, ‘Catch the ball, Chocolate Drop.’ The nickname just stuck after that.”
    So does anyone still call him Danny? “Nope,” he says.
    In high school, Chocolate played both offense and defense on Parkland’s football team, graduating in 1968. Years later, his unusual nickname—and RCR’s incredible success—helped Myers become known as “NASCAR’s most famous gasman,” a title he still carries today.
    Now, at age 67, Myers says he’s grateful that the museum and radio show allow him to stay connected to the sport he loves.
    “Racing is what I’ve always done, and I’ve never thought about doing anything else,” he says. “I feel like I’m the luckiest man on earth sometimes. I truly love what I do, and I hope I get to keep doing it for a long time to come.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

A handshake with Earnhardt

This is another memory in honor of Dale Earnhardt Sr., who died on Feb. 18, 2001.

It was the late 1990s, and we were at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Earnhardt was being swamped by race fans, and he was looking around for help.

He saw me and smiled. He knew how to get away.

As I walked up, Earnhardt stuck out his hand and we shook hands. It must have lasted a half-minute, and we had a short conversation. I told him that he owed me one for the favor; he smiled and agreed.

The fans seemed to enjoy the incident because Earnhardt was talking to someone he knew (at least a little bit, in my case).

Then he turned and walked away, leaving me and his fans in the lurch. I saw him a few times after that, but we never spoke one-on-one again.

If you're wondering, that was only the second time we ever shook hands.

Related: Angel in Black


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