They first learned of his birth via a press release, the son of legend Bill Elliott, born just two weeks after his father led 17 laps and ran fourth behind champion Dale Earnhardt on the family family circuit, Atlanta Motor Speedway. The following February, child Chase was carried on his father’s hip as they made their way to Awesome Bill’s Ford Thunderbird on the Daytona 500’s grid.
We watched little Chase stroll around the Cup Series garage holding his father’s hand. We saw him sitting in the towers of Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and other stock racing demigods the rest of us had to line up to meet. We watched him on TV, snowboarding in Colorado in his father’s footsteps almost as soon as he could walk. We saw him in Sports Illustrated, alongside golfer Jordan Spieth, as their sport’s future must-see stars. He was 13 years old.
They say that as your children get older their bodies and faces change, but not their eyes. When you look into your child’s eyes, the setting around them may be different, but what is looking at you is always the same. Perhaps this is why so many people were caught off guard by their emotions when NBC’s dash cams captured Chase Elliott’s watery eyes, so much so that he had to lift his visor to dry them with his gloves on. . When he did that there was in high definition those eyes that so many racing fans have been looking at for so long.
Heck, even his father, who spent most of his NASCAR Hall of Fame career showing off the emotional specter of a city park statue, was screaming and jumping up and down the pit lane after that his son won the Cup.
– Ryan McGee (@ESPNMcGee) November 8, 2020
“I just think of all the people who worked so hard to get me to this point today,” Chase Elliott said Sunday night, after fending off a late charge from Joey Logano to claim his 11th career victory and his first championship. “I think of my family, of all the crew who built all these race cars for me, of Rick Hendrick for hiring me. Jimmie Johnson, who ran his last race tonight, and Jeff Gordon, who both took me under their wings. as teammates and mentors. There were a lot of people who supported me. Even when there were a lot of people who didn’t. ”
Yes, there have always been a lot. Even for the son of a beloved NASCAR legend. Bill Elliott won 44 races, the 1988 NASCAR title, and was voted most popular driver 16 times. But being the child of a legend comes with relentless criticism, no matter what the sport. In racing, that noise is as loud as the race cars themselves, a ‘silver spoon’ perception that these drivers haven’t really earned the gear they run, the jobs they get or the jobs they get. sponsorships that paid for all of the above.
Chase Elliott has spent his life publicly ignoring these reviews, but privately they’ve always eaten him. This is why he was always so serious, even from a young age, stressed out by self-inflicted pressure. When his career started 0 for 98 in his quest for a first Cup Series victory, it took him emotionally. Even when he started winning steadily – three wins each in 2018 and 2019, only his third and fourth full-time seasons – he lost sleep during the offseason due to his failure to make it to the final race of the season as one of four titles. contenders.
“For me, it has always been a fear of letting people down,” he admitted to Daytona in February, on the eve of a Daytona 500 where he led 23 laps but finished 17th. “I think because of my name and my dad, two things that I’m so proud of, the bar has always been so high in people’s minds. But my bar has always been higher than that. This is all why my friends and family seem to always remind me to enjoy it all a little more than I do. ”
The most vocal preacher in this sermon has always been his father. Bill Elliott always looked rather miserable on the circuit, even at the height of his powers in the 1980s. He hid under his racing car to avoid reporters as he raced for the ultra bonus. hyped Winston Million dollar in Darlington in 1985. After winning his Cup title three years later, he told photographers at the Winston Cup Awards in New York, “The good news is that tomorrow morning you won’t be able to follow me home. me in Dawsonville [Georgia]! »
But that same year, he met his future wife, Cindy, who was one of those photographers. They were married in 1992. When they had the suddenly stoic Chase, old Awesome Bill from Dawsonville couldn’t help but smile. Now, it’s the father’s job to remind his son to do the same, a task he took very seriously in the days leading up to the Phoenix season finale.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Bill Elliott, 65, said Sunday night. He was talking about his son’s need to win at Martinsville Speedway a week ago just to get into the 4 Championship and then the title fight itself. “But I reminded him all week to have fun. All we want as racing drivers is to put ourselves in a position to win a championship. He did it. So I reminded him to appreciate it. Don’t be. I’m afraid you don’t like it. I wish someone had told me that when I was driving. ”
Chase Elliott appreciated his father’s efforts to keep things lighter going into the final.
“He said to me, ‘Dude, all you have to do is beat three other guys, how hard is that ?!’ The son recalls his father’s week-long training towards light counseling. “He worked hard to keep me free. I enjoyed it so much. Right now when I got out of the car and he hugged me for the first time, that’s what he kept screaming. I told you you could do it! ‘And he was right. I think his advice all week has worked pretty well. ”
Yes, it’s true. Now the Elliotts are just the third father-son duo to both become NASCAR Cup Series Champions, joining Lee and Richard Petty and Ned and Dale Jarrett, who are all alongside Bill Elliott in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. . Chase Elliott is the third youngest champion in NASCAR’s 72-year history and his youngest since Gordon in 1996.
“The sky is the limit for Chase,” Johnson said after taking time for his own post-race career celebration to congratulate teammate Hendrick Motorsports, two decades his junior. The seven-time Cup champion finished fifth in his last event as a full-time NASCAR racer, just behind Championship 4.
“When I arrived, there was no expectation from me. Chase has had these impossible expectations of others since the day he was born. But he never shied away from this challenge. The reality is that he is an incredibly talented racing driver. Sponsors and opportunities and even your last name, none of that drives the race car. The person behind the wheel does it. And he’s a helmsman. ”
In May 2010, I stood with a group of people on an observation deck that overlooked Turn 3 at Rockingham Speedway which had just reopened. We watched the youngsters and veterans of the USAR Pro Cup Series try to manhandle their machines, spiraling out of control as they stepped into the infamous sandblasted and stone-filled treacherous corner. One by one, the cars slid sideways and slapped the exterior retaining wall. Except one. The # 9 Ford continued to cut the diamond into the corner without a tire squeal, thrusting into Turn 4 and flying out of sight the front pitch.
It was driven by 14-year-old Chase Elliott.
I was on that platform with Bobby Allison, the NASCAR Hall of Fame who competed against Chase’s father and himself fathered a pair of racing car driver sons. Allison grabbed my shoulder, showed me the turn below, and laughed. “Do you know who teaches someone to drive like that?” ”
I replied, “His father? ”
“Hell no,” Bobby Allison laughs. “Only God can teach you to drive like this. When you’re born, you can do it or you can’t. One day this child will be a champion. ”
That day is today.