There’s something about NASCAR – the sights, the sounds, the smell of rubber meeting road, the dogs… That’s right! Many race fans don’t realize dogs are as integral to race day as tires and motor oil.
For decades, dogs have arguably been as big a part of the lure and excitement of race day as the cars, the drivers, and, yes, the crazy crashes themselves.
Meandering through the infield at Daytona International Speedway where drivers, fans, and spectators set up their homes-away-from home for up to a week ahead of NASCAR’s Daytona 500, leashes and ex-pens are as common as barbecue grills and beach chairs; people play fetch with their dogs alongside rows of campers and cornhole. It’s no surprise, as no home-away-from-home would be complete without the entire family – including the dog!
Man’s best friend is so welcomed at races, in fact, that some tracks have even installed dog parks and water/potty stations to provide for their four-legged fans.
And, for drivers and their families, it’s no different! Many of your favorite drivers bring their best friends along. The tradition of including the family dog is said to have started back in the 1970’s when legendary hall-of-famer Darrell Waltrip began bringing his Basset Hound, Charlie Brown, to the races.
Rumor has it that Charlie was free to roam around the garages while race teams prepped their cars. That is, until competing teams started suspecting the pup of spying! Apparently Charlie wore a collar with a small disc attached that hung around his neck that, to many, looked suspiciously like a microphone. And so, dogs were officially banned from garages to thwart any efforts to listen-in on competitor’s race car setups – but not before the simple act of bringing their best friend along for the adventure became commonplace among drivers.
For about 10-months out of the year NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) and ARCA (the Automobile Racing Club of America) drivers and their families travel the country, from speedway to speedway, setting up camp (in their luxury motorcoaches) for days at a time before heading onto the next destination. So, when we had the opportunity to meet a few Toyota Racing drivers and their furriest family members during their temporary residency at the Daytona 500, we couldn’t wait to find out what life was like for a race car driver’s dog!
As we approached No. 78 Toyota Camry driver, Martin Truex, Jr.’s motorcoach, it was quickly apparent that we’d be meeting a fellow canine-loving comrade! A trail of fluff from inside a recently gutted, well-loved squeaky toy was strewn about the path leading to the bus steps. Naturally, the reigning 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion was warm, welcoming, and (as any true dog lover is) more than eager to talk about his rescue dog, Boden.
At about 6 years old, the Charcoal Labrador has been with Truex Jr. and longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex since 2013 when they rescued him from a family that, for a reason they can’t fathom, no longer wanted him. The one-and-a-half year old Lab must’ve known he had a great new adventurous life ahead of him – Truex told us Boden pee’d with excitement the moment they met!
A laid-back, super chill, sometimes lazy, but totally adventurous dog, Boden travels everywhere his family goes, either lounging on the sofa of their decked out bus or flying by private jet to the next race city. And, of course, Boden wouldn’t be a race car driver’s dog if he didn’t love car rides – as long as there’s no bucket seats, Truex said. “He gets mad when there’s bucket seats and he can’t lay down, but as soon as he gets in the backseat of the Tundra, he goes right to sleep.”
As someone that travels with his dog for the greater part of a year, Truex offered a bit of advice for dog parents on trips – always carry a collapsible water bowl and plenty of water, or be prepared to let your dog drink from your cup!
Although the drivers’ dogs are safely snoozing away in their motorcoaches during the race and are entirely unfazed by the vrooming and whizzing of cars speeding upwards of 200 miles an hour around them, there’s one brief moment on race day when Boden becomes perturbed.
“Boden hates the National Anthem, he goes berserk,” Truex Jr. explained. Don’t worry, Boden isn’t unpatriotic – he’s just learned that fireworks displays usually follow the anthem and, like most dogs, is frightened by the crackle and boom of fireworks.
We also met one of the best up-and-coming drivers in all of NASCAR, 22-year old superstar-in-the-making, No. 20 Toyota Camry driver, Erik Jones and his loyal sidekick, Oscar. Oscar Jameson Jones is an absolutely stunning 9-month old German Shepherd who was just as excited to meet us as we were him!
When we joined Erik and Oscar inside their home-away-from-home at the Speedway, Oscar – in true puppy form – had to thoroughly meet and greet us with sniffs and licks, something that his human dad is quite used to, joking that more people come by to visit with Oscar than they do him these days. (For the record, Oscar is a star in his own right, sharing his adventures to friends and fans on his own Instagram page @OscarJamesonJones.)
Because Oscar is still an energetic puppy, he gets plenty of opportunities to exercise while away from home. And, although he’s still working on his leash-skills (he’s always either going way too fast or not at all), Erik says Oscar gets a lot of long walks every day and expends some of that excess energy playing with other drivers’ dogs.
Erik also had some tips for pet parents traveling with their best friends in tow. “Plenty of water, treats, and a toy or two are definite must-haves.” Luckily, Oscar has been traveling since Erik adopted him at just 8-weeks old, so he’s well-adjusted to life on the road and at the track.
In the same way dog moms and dads have a routine before heading off to work for the day, Erik’s pre-race ritual involves giving Oscar a little pep talk, a pat on the head, reminding him to “be a good boy,” and saying “I’ll be back in a few minutes” before heading off to drive.
But, one of the very best things about having a dog on your team, Jones says, is that “no matter what happens on the track, he doesn’t care if I come in first place or last, he’s just as happy to see me when I’m done.”
And finally, we were honored to chat with one of professional stock car racing’s most exciting up-and-coming female racers, ARCA driver, Natalie Decker, about her furriest family members. Decker shares her heart and home with four dogs – Bear, a Black Lab, Merlin the Italian Greyhound, and two Beagles that join her on the road to all her races, Camber and Hoosier.
When Hoosier first joined the Deckers, a family of longtime racers, he very quickly grew accustomed to the hustle and bustle (and noise) of the track, so traveling to speedways around the country is second-nature to the race-loving Beagle.
But, Natalie says Camber can sometimes be afraid of the noise, a trait that’s earned him the nickname “Baby.” When things get loud, Camber escapes to the motorhome for peace and quiet. Naturally, Decker’s Beagles love to travel – Hoosier even sits on the dashboard of the motorhome and helps Natalie’s mom drive from city to city while Camber usually finds a cozy spot to sleep in the bedroom.
Speaking of travel, while Natalie absolutely adores her dogs, the one thing she doesn’t like is dog hair! So, her never-leave-home-without-it travel item is a lint roller!
While many drivers have a pre-race ritual involving their dogs, Natalie described her most special moment comes after the race, when she returns to the motorhome. “Usually Camber is sleeping when I’m done racing, but Hoosier is either outside or waiting for me on the dash of the motorhome, and it’s the weirdest thing, but he knows when it was a good race and freaks out when he sees me like he hasn’t seen me in years! It’s the cutest thing ever!”
Of course, anyone that travels regularly with dogs knows that there’s the occasional mishap. Natalie knows this all too well! One particular mishap happened at Gateway Motorsports Park in Illinois. The NASCAR Camping World Trucks had finished racing and Natalie’s race was up next. Between races, fireworks were set off and the cars – including Natalie – began circling the track, waiting for the start. For 6 laps around the track, Natalie and the other drivers grew increasingly frustrated, wondering what was going on, why they weren’t starting the race.
It wasn’t until after the race ended that Natalie learned that Camber had broken out of his collar when he became frightened of the pre-race fireworks and became lost in the infield – the entire race was held up until he was found!
Even if you aren’t a diehard race fanatic to start, you can’t help but become one when surrounded by tens of thousands of the friendliest, most down-to-earth fans you’ll find in any sport – especially when you meet their fur-friends, too!
Check out the NASCAR Monster Cup Series 2018 Schedule here – there are races almost every weekend through November. We’ll be rooting for our new dog-loving friends on the Toyota Racing team (okay, they’re very talented drivers, too)!
And, head to Toyota Racing to meet all the drivers, see their schedules, and read the latest news from the races. And remember on race day to root for your favorite dog-loving driver!