‘Bad Brad’ scores positive points with Darlington fans

My friend Tammy hadn’t even changed out of her dress after coming home from her brother-in-law Darrell’s funeral before making an announcement. “Brad Keselowski is my new favorite driver,” she said.

We talk about NASCAR a lot in this neck of the woods – it is Darlington, S.C., after all – but even so, you may think this remark was rather unusual. Well, so were the circumstances.

Darrell Keith Gandy, who died on May 19, 2012 at the age of 48, was born with Down syndrome. The genetic condition may cause delays in physical and intellectual development, but from a social standpoint, it didn’t slow Darrell down. He was a popular and outgoing kind of guy, with many faithful friends in the community.

Darrell loved sports. He had a strong dislike for the New York Yankees – who doesn’t? – but otherwise, he was an equal opportunity fan. Over the years, his friends fell into the habit of supporting his sports passion by giving him hats, representing nearly every professional, collegiate and NASCAR team you can think of. His brother Artie says that when gift-giving occasions rolled around, all Darrell ever asked for was more hats. He literally had hundreds of them.

Growing up in NASCAR’s backyard, naturally Darrell loved racing, and had developed a particular fondness for Brad Keselowski, driver of Penske Racing’s famous “Blue Deuce.”

Keselowski’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing career has been brief, but memorable. Now in only his third year of fulltime NSCS competition, the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion has posted six wins, and earned a spot in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship field, finishing the season fifth in the driver standings. He is known for his aggressive driving style, his brutal honesty when asked his opinion on pretty much anything, and his absolute refusal to either back down or give in, earning him the nickname “Bad Brad.”

For the record, Keselowski has also become known for his ardent support of the U.S. military, particularly the Wounded Warrior Project, which offers experiential opportunities, such as spending the day at a NASCAR event, for soldiers and their families.

Who can say how or why we choose our sports allegiances? The decision is often geographical, hence the term “home team.” Some fan bases are inherited, as many of us tend to pull for the teams we watched as children with our fathers, or our grandfathers. Some people feel an affinity for underdogs, while others prefer more dominating types. Sometimes, opposites attract, and the most gentle, mild-mannered person you know may decide to vicariously live out his dreams through the fiercest of competitors.

Whatever the reason, Darrell chose Brad. And in the tradition of every loyal and loving NASCAR team, his family backed him up; Darrell was laid to rest on May 21 wearing a Keselowski shirt and hat. There was a church full of Blue Deuce fans in Darlington that day.

The story’s exact chain of events gets a little muddy at this point, but it surely involved some divine intervention. Apparently the manager of the Darlington Raceway gift shop fell into conversation with a random customer and told him Darrell’s story. The result was the delivery of a spectacular NASCAR-themed floral arrangement, complete with a Darlington Raceway license plate and a card that read, “With deepest sympathy for your loss … Brad Keselowski and the Penske Racing Team.”

So the Keselowski fan line may start with Tammy, but I’m right behind her, and I suspect it will get awfully long before we’re done. With a simple, caring gesture in honor of Darrell Gandy, a true Darlington warrior, Bad Brad and his team created a town full of goodwill.

 

 

 

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