HOMESTEAD, Fla. — As the man drove over the line, and thousands of fans rose in ovation, and a cacophony of cheers engulfed the entire stadium at once, the woman finally peeked.
OK, she more than peeked. You blame her? Doctors gave this woman a prescription for pain, for cancer, for almost certain death. Now here she was, watching as her dreams literally rode to her on four tattered Goodyear tires. You better believe she opened her eyes to watch.
And what a spectacle she saw. A flood of people, dozens of bodies morphed into one mass, all sprinting and climbing over walls and doing anything in their power just for a second’s glimpse of the man. Her man. Her champion.
Maybe that’s when it started to set in, not the gravity of it all — that certainly won’t come in one night, or one week, or even who knows when — but that it had happened. Martin Truex Jr. had actually won the NASCAR championship, the first of his career. And she, Sherry Pollex, his longtime girlfriend, was there to see it come to fruition.
“Honestly it’s like every dream you’ve ever had came true tonight,” Pollex said right after the race, “and I’m here and I’m healthy enough to see it and I’m so thankful.”
Healthy enough. That’s a stipulation most other drivers don’t have to worry about when it comes to their loved ones, but most other drivers haven’t dealt with everything Truex (and Pollex) have had to. Most other drivers don’t lose their jobs in the middle of their prime, like Truex did after 2013; or have partners with recurring Stage 3 ovarian cancer, like Pollex does; or have countless other losses close to their team, like the entire No. 78 team has suffered through. And yet, here Truex was. Pollex, too. And now they were champions?
“I was a wreck thinking about all the tough days, the bad days, the times where I thought my career was over with, the times when I didn’t think anyone believed in me,” Truex said. “I don’t even know how to put this into words. It’s not sunk in yet.
“Tonight’s going to be a hell of a party.”
Right, back to the party. Pollex ran her hands through her shoulder-length blonde hair, composing herself, and then she climbed down from the pit box and started her trek to Truex. That mob of fans and crew members swallowed her up until she finally got beside Truex’s car, so close that the warmth of the engine radiated on your legs and the hot flicks of car fluid spit up and licked your arms.
Truex was already mid-hoopla when Pollex got to the car, so she gave him his moment.
He’d earned it, after all. He was the one who won eight races this season, the most of any driver. He was the one who led the most laps, won the most stages. He was the one with so many points that in most other seasons, he would have already clinched the championship before the final race. And ultimately, he was the one who came from behind on Sunday, who rallied despite not having the best car, to fend off the other three championship contenders (coincidentally leading 78 laps along the way) and win NASCAR’s top series.
So Pollex stood a few feet away and recorded it all on her phone, swiping up constantly to remove the congratulatory text messages now flooding her iPhone.
Eventually Truex and Pollex made eye contact, and then nothing else mattered. Truex pushed bodies out of the way like he has cars all season long until he and his girlfriend could embrace. They hugged, kissed. Cried. What else was there for either of them to say?
“After everything we’ve been through personally and on the track, this is ... I couldn’t even get myself to think about this moment,” Pollex said, “because I knew the emotions were going to be just crazy.”
That’s just in the immediate aftermath, too. The high-fives and hugs and slaps on the back came like a revolving door after that, each one forcing both Truex and Pollex to flash their smiles. Other drivers came, and crew members, but random fans, too. One man even waited as long for Pollex to autograph his baseball cap (which she of course did) as everyone else did for her winning partner.
By that time, the raw emotions had to give way to the official processional. The stage. The trophy lifting. The confetti, the champagne showers, all that stuff that champions get to do — that’s life champions, too, not just drivers.
So Pollex swigged a miniature water bottle and started jogging to the stage. But before she could leave, she found her mother for one last embrace, and she said something to her that shouldn’t soon be forgotten.
“That’s why you never give up,” Pollex said. “Never.”