Pit Note 10: Coca-Cola 600 a Star-Studded Affair

WALTER JR. AT THE TRACK – Fans of award-winning AMC show “Breaking Bad” will notice a familiar face in the crowd at Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

RJ Mitte is at Charlotte Motor Speedway as a guest of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David Ragan after both were involved in a Shriners Hospital event. Mitte, 21, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 3 and credits Shriners for giving him therapy to greatly improve his speech and mobility.

“Without the Shriners I wouldn’t have the ability I have today,” Mitte said. “I’m so lucky they found me.”

Growing up, Mitte said he was a fan of other types of racing – motorcross, ATVs, go karts. He even raced a bit. But he’d never been to a NASCAR race until this weekend.

“I’m a big fan of these machines,” Mitte said. “And I’ve met some really rad drivers.”

HALL OF FAMERS – NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rex White and the family of inductee Wendell Scott were in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center Sunday reflecting on the honor. The Scott family was represented by his three of his seven children, Sybil, Franklin and Wendell Jr.

“There was this feeling in my heart that I can’t describe,” said Wendell Scott Jr. of hearing his father’s name called. “This excited me tremendously and has yet to subside. You have so many mixed emotions. There were so many people we raced with. I started remembering laps, races and making strategy for dad. We would try and get a position just for ten extra dollars because it meant shoes for one of the girls or extra money for mom. All of that just imploded in my mind. And all of them were happy moments. It’s all about dad and mom. It’s just bigger than life.”

Scott was a gifted mechanic with no formal education who honed his skills driving through the mountains of his hometown of Danville, Virginia. Scott ran several years in the old sportsman circuit before making the move to the Sprint Cup Series. His only Sprint Cup win came in 1963 at Jacksonville, Florida, during a short-track race.

Rex White is NASCAR’s oldest living champion, winning the Sprint Cup Series Championship in 1960. He was also a participant in the first annual Coca-Cola 600 held that same year.

“I had no idea I would go in this year,” said White. “I was so surprised. It is just so great to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame; it’s a big honor for me to be even thought about to go in.”

After surviving a bout with polio as a child, White said he was attracted to racing thanks to a poster hanging in the gas station where he worked.

“I looked at that poster for about a month before I got enough money to go to a race,” White said. “And the first stock car that I ever saw go around a race track, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I set out to get in the pits and learn more about them. I met Frankie Schneider (former driver) and I started helping him. And that kicked my racing career off.”

TRADE YA – When Olympic Gold Medalist Tyler Clary first saw Jimmie Johnson in the pool at the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center, he nearly cringed.

“I told him, ‘It’s kind of painful watching your stroke,’” Clary said. “I said, ‘Swimming lessons for driving lessons?’”

That’s because even though Clary is at the pinnacle of his sport, having won the 200-meter backstroke in the 2012 Summer Olympics, he’s ready for a career change. By 2017, Clary hopes to be driving in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

“I was always around motorsports; it’s a passion of mine,” Clary said. “But early on swimming took the forefront, and we didn’t really have the money to get me into cars when I was a little kid. I didn’t get a chance to pursue it until recently.”

But as soon as he could, he put himself in a position to ready himself for the next chapter. He moved to Charlotte to train for swimming so that he could be in racing country.

“Being able to swim and train down here in Charlotte … it’s a one-two punch for me,” Clary said. “The other cool thing about being in this area is there are tracks everywhere. I could pretty much do all the testing I wanted and get a lot of seat time, a lot of experience, and really set myself up for success. I do well in an environment where I have several things going on.”

That’s a good thing. Because although he’s training for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, he’s also trying to put together a business plan and get seat time for his racing career.

So far he’s driven sports cars and Skip Barber cars, being selected as one of the 33 best prospects in the country to train at the INDYCAR Academy. In last year’s Toyota Pro/Celebrity Long Beach race, he won the pole and finished second in the Pro race. But Johnson hasn’t actually seen him race yet, so he hasn’t had the chance to return the razzing.

“I know that he has a passion for motorsports and wants to get involved.” said Johnson, “I’d love to help him. He is a great guy.”