Dad I Love You

This Father’s Day is unlike any other I’ve ever had.

I don’t have a father any more. That’s harshly blunt, I know. But how else am I supposed to explain it? How else am I supposed to deal with it? How else am I supposed to explain that I can’t call my dad and tell him how I’m doing?

Jack Montgomery was born in 1934 in Lawrence County, Ill. He died May 15, 2002 in Garner, N.C. In between he lived what many would consider a normal life. He married my mom in 1957, had three sons and a daughter, worked hard for 40 years and enjoyed a life of retirement until cancer took him away.

My dad never held political office, never made millions in the stock market, never flew around the world, never won an Academy Award, never won the Daytona 500, never pitched in a World Series, never did the things that some people think are extraordinary.

I could give a rat’s behind. My dad was an extraordinary man. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

He took me to my first race back in 1979 at Rockingham, N.C. I had bugged him for a while about going to a race, and a buddy of his from work, Charlie Perry, drove us to Rockingham.

Racing was different back then. There wasn’t the mob scene there is today. You could drive right in, find a decent parking space, go to your seat, watch a good race and drive right out. You didn’t have to spend the family inheritance to go to a race, and you certainly didn’t have to wear your Dale Earnhardt Jr. hat backwards.

Yes, times were simpler back then. Of course, a 12-year-old’s life is pretty simple. At least it was for me.

My dad took me to meet my hero, Richard Petty, at a local car dealership. I still have the picture, the autograph and the memories.

My dad kept taking me to races, and eventually, it was more than me, him and Charlie Perry. My older brothers got hooked. My friends got hooked. My older brother’s friends got hooked. Heck, even my sister got hooked (that race at Martinsville with her is still one of my all-time favorites).

The stories from all those races are memorable. There was a race at Charlotte (back when you knew what to call that track) where a friend of the family had gotten us these great tickets through Bob Rahilly, then a team owner. After taking at least one lap around the outside of the track, we discovered we had front-row seats on the backstretch. A few chicken bones, a lot of dust, even more tire rubber and a bunch of empty beer cans later, we vowed never to pull for Rahilly’s team again.

There was a race at Rockingham, where a borrowed van’s battery went dead, and my good buddy Rod Whaley – who should be a Winston Cup crew chief – had to swap a battery from a friend’s Thunderbird in the parking lot with the lone wrench we had in the back of the van.

The classic of them all was a race I didn’t even go to. But I’ve heard the story so many times I felt like I was there. My older brother, Jeff, and one of his friends, also named Jeff, got in a wrestling match in the back of the same borrowed van. A bench swiped from the front porch of my parent’s house was in jeopardy, and my dad had heard enough of the giggling.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” he yelled from the front seat. “If you guys break that bench, Norma’s gonna kick my ass! My own son, a damn yayhoo!”

We laugh about it now, but I bet neither Jeff was laughing then.

Eventually, I started going to races on my own and finally got to live my dream of being a reporter covering stock-car racing. It’s not been an easy road, and sometimes I wonder if it was worth all the hassles, all the long hours in traffic, all the pressure of getting the story.

But then I’d call my dad on Sundays as the green flag was waved, and I’d remember why I got into this racket. I’d also remember something I wanted a long, long time ago. I wanted my dad to be proud of me. I know he was, but I sure wish he were here to tell me.

My dad never was much of an emotional guy, and he rarely told me he loved me. But I heard that several times on the cell phone as I stood in the pits in Homestead, Fla., Kansas City, Richmond, Va. … Rockingham, Charlotte, Martinsville. Maybe he was making up for lost time, maybe he wasn’t sure how many times he would be able to tell me.

Heck, maybe he just loved me.

Maybe your father loves you, too. No, I know your father loves you. He might not show it all the time, but I know he does.

The people in racing have been great to me since my dad died. I wish they knew how much they meant to me.

One of the things people in racing -- and other folks, too – have asked is if they could do anything for me.

I have but one request. And this is for everyone whose father is still alive. Go pick up your cell phone or your home phone and call your dad and tell him you love him. Tell him you don’t care if he hasn’t been the perfect father or that you haven’t had the perfect relationship with him, you still love him.

Better yet, tell him in person. Look him in the eye and say, “Dad, I love you.” That would be the best Father’s Day present he could get.

I can’t do that any more. I sure wish I could.

Thanks, dad, for being an extraordinary father. I miss you a lot.

Dad, I love you.

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at lee.montgomery@rmg3.com

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