Well, lets see, where to begin ... I didn't really know anything about AJ before he came to NASCAR for Red Bull Racing. I don't really follow open wheel racing but I did recognize his name from the sports shows. I really don't know what it was about AJ that got me in the beginning, maybe it was rooting for the underdog (I seem to do that all the time) or what, I don't know. All I know is that I was totally on board from the first time I saw him in his Red Bull firesuit. Then again, it could also have something to do with his hair... LOL I still find it amazing how it always looks so perfect, even when its been in a helmet for hours. I can totally admit that I may actually be a little jealous of the perfect hair thing... but something tells me I may not be alone there!!!
Ok, sorry about that, now back on topic. Those first few years were not easy to be an AJ fan. Not because he wasn't doing his best, because I know that he always drives his heart out, but when he was a go or go homer, qualifying was extremely stressful. I was always on pins and needles until it was over. There may have also been a few profanities yelled at the TV from time to time (not at AJ, of course). However, even through the hard times, I always saw, and still do, AJ's potential to be a great NASCAR driver. I hated how Red Bull treated him and let him go just as he was starting to show improvement, and I know that it has not been a smooth road at RPM, but through it all AJ always seemed positive and never gave up, and I totally love that about him. It seems that when the world keeps throwing lemons at him that he just digs his heels in harder and makes lemonade. I am certain that with all the turmoil over at RPM that he will get the chance to show the whole world just how great he really is.
I was so excited in 2008 when I got to Richmond for the fall race to see that AJ was going to be doing an autograph signing. I was also excited to get some great AJ merchandise so I could finally show off my support for AJ. However, Tropical Storm Hannah had different plans and the signing didn't happen and that totally sucked. I was lucky though the next year to meet AJ at an autograph signing in Homestead. We were all waiting at the back of the hauler on Sunday morning before the Cup race when AJ showed up. He actually took the time to stop and interact with the fans for a moment before he went inside to start the signing. I can tell you from other autograph signings that this was a rarity and very much appreciated by his fans. I eagerly awaited as the line slowly inched along until it was my turn to meet AJ. He was so great and took the time to small talk with everyone. I was also amazed at how down to earth he was. He made it feel like I was talking with the guy next door and not a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, I wasn't jittery or anything. Now, anyone that knows me will tell you that I am always a bundle of nerves when I am getting ready to meet someone famous. AJ is really the only famous person I have met when I never felt nervous. In fact, I felt like I was talking with someone I have known for years. This is an amazing quality and one of the things that makes him so great not only as a driver but as a person.
Here are a few pictures I took in Miami.
Markham, Ontario, Canada