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NASCAR event features No. 78

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By Alex Purcell

I often joked that I was the only NASCAR fan in Colorado, but after spending a few hours in Furniture Row’s 170,000 square-foot showroom in the middle of Denver, I realized how inaccurate that statement was.

No, it wasn’t as though hundreds of race fans coincidentally decided to shop for a new race day armchair at the same time (although it was difficult not to browse a bit).

We were there to meet our hero, a man by the name of Martin Truex Jr.

Normally, at any NASCAR event, there’s infighting among fans: A sneer at the No. 4 on a hat, a verbal jab at someone wearing an 18, an argument between fans in No. 9 gear and No. 11 garb. Not at the showroom. We were a nation united by a championship trophy, a chain furniture store, Coloradan pride and a single number: 78.

If you still think the only Coloradan sports team worth watching is the Broncos, think again. We’ve got Furniture Row Racing, the only NASCAR team west of the Mississippi. It’s a small, single-car team headquartered in a nondescript warehouse in Denver, but don’t let the building fool you. The race cars that roll out are proven winners, the best on the NASCAR circuit.

Don’t believe me? Visit the shop and see the trophies Truex wheeled in – including the 2017 Monster Energy Cup.

I’m not saying I drove like Truex to make it from Pueblo to Denver, but I managed to make a two-hour trip in an hour and a half. I arrived at around 1 p.m., two hours before Truex was scheduled to start scribbling on stuff. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’ve been to six races, even seen Truex win one of them. This was nothing like that.

I’ve concluded if you’re going to wait around in a line for hours, a brand-new furniture store is a pretty good place for it.

It was quiet. There were people actually shopping for furniture, casting suspicious glances at the hundreds of fans following a taped-off maze through the store. I tested several sofas myself. There was lots of interesting stuff to look at. (I particularly liked the massive pink chandelier, but concluded it would probably clash with my NASCAR décor.)

The fans themselves were quite a spectacle. Most were wearing FRR merchandise, including myself. The stylized No. 78 was everywhere. I imagine fans spent a long time sifting through all their gear, selecting the loudest shirt or the favorite hat, one to wear and one to slide across the table to Truex. One more zealous than I hauled the entire bumper from an FRR race car into the store.

I’m rough on clothing and wouldn’t want to risk washing away Truex’s handwriting, so at a friend’s suggestion, I chose something simpler but just as special. At Christmas, my parents gifted me a full-size flag bearing an image of Truex’s car. I folded it up carefully around a piece of cardboard, pinned it in place with paper clips, and guarded it like my life depended on it.

I spent two hours making conversation with the fans around me. The best part of being a NASCAR fan is if you spot your favorite driver’s number on someone else, bam. Instant friend!  We discussed our favorite topic: Truex, naturally. My father sneaked away from work to join me at around 3 p.m. and seamlessly inserted himself into the conversation.

Truex was cloistered in a corner of the store dedicated entirely to FRR. Several race cars, used tires and trophies had been hauled in for display, and any sense of feeling out of place in a furniture store melted when I saw the race-used championship-winning No. 78 car.

Then I looked up. There he was. The man himself.

I thought I’d be completely star-struck, but I wasn’t. Truex’s ease put me at ease. He looked me right in the eye and greeted me, taking my flag with ink-stained hands and a genuine smile. I fumbled around for words and settled on telling him I’d attended the race he won at Kansas in 2017 and thanked him for making the drive worth it. He nodded and asked if I was planning on going again.

I couldn’t believe it – was THE Martin Truex Jr. actually making conversation with ME? OK, now I was star-struck. I told him, regrettably, the race fell on the weekend I had to move out of the dorms, to which he responded “Aw, man,” but that there was always next race.

He posed for a few pictures with me, gave back my flag, signed both my dad’s shirts, and then just like that, it was over. I’d successfully killed half a day and missed most of my Monday classes to spend less than a minute with my hero.

The only thing I regret is I didn’t ask to shake his hand.