Friday, January 22, 2010
Updated: January 27, 11:43 AM ET
Young Logano fan gets the surprise of a lifetime
HARRISBURG, Ark. -- Gavin Grubbs waited patiently on Friday, as patiently as an 8-year-old can when his Sprint Cup hero disappears from the computer screen after less than a minute of conversation.
He'd just steered his motorized wheelchair past three tricycles to a dramatic victory highlighted by a last-lap pileup in the gymnasium at Harrisburg High School. His reward was a video conference with 19-year-old Joey Logano, who said he was home in Concord, N.C., before the connection was lost.
Or so Gavin thought.
As principal Steve Rorex pretended to toy with the computer the driver of Joe Gibbs' No. 20 Toyota emerged from an adjacent room and slipped into the makeshift Victory Lane. Gavin, who was diagnosed with merosin-negative muscular dystrophy at 6 months of age, was bent-over-double stunned.
So was everybody packed into the stands to kick off a homecoming celebration for the Hornets, who coincidently have the same orange and black colors of Logano's primary sponsor, Home Depot.
"I was like, 'Is that Joey Logano or somebody acting like him?'" Gavin said.
It really was Logano. He took time out of his preseason schedule to fly to a remote corner of Arkansas to fulfill Gavin's two wishes -- meet his hero and get invited to the Daytona 500 -- courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
It was hard to tell who was touched more, Gavin or Logano, who still was smiling when we arrived back in Concord.
"Look at that kid," Logano said. "That's how he's going to be the rest of his life. But is that not the happiest kid you've ever seen? Your worst day is not bad if you can look at a kid like Gavin and he's smiling.
"I should be smiling, too."
At times it was hard to tell who the biggest star was as Gavin's friends seemed just as interested in him as they were the 2009 Cup rookie of the year. Logano, normally the total focus at an event like this, noticed it as well.
"He should be the focus," said Logano, who was homeschooled just like Gavin. "I was there for him. He was the main character."
The opportunity for me to tag along with Logano was presented a few weeks ago. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but after four straight days of 24/7 on NASCAR's preseason media tour, the enthusiasm had left this mind and body.
It didn't take long to return. The pure joy in Gavin's face as Logano knelt beside him was like watching the final minutes of "Rudy" when the undersized hero finally gets onto the field at Notre Dame.
Yes, there were tears.
There also were funny moments. When Logano asked him what caused the wreck on the last lap at Harrisburg High, Gavin, in the most innocent voice you can imagine, said, "They got too close."
When Gavin told Logano he was scared watching his driver's car go end-over-end in a spectacular crash at Dover last season, Logano deadpanned, "I was scared, too."
When Logano asked Gavin about all of his girlfriends, the kid said he had them numbered "just like cars in NASCAR."
"Gavin is a player," Logano said with a laugh.
When he was asked why he picked Logano to be his favorite driver, Gavin said, "Because he is the driver closest to my age."
Asked why not Mark Martin, whose hometown of Batesville is about an hour from Harrisburg, Gavin curled his lips in a way one does when eating spinach and said, "He's 50."
When the conversation turned to video games and Logano asked him if he liked GameStop, a sponsor on his No. 20 Nationwide Series car, Gavin replied, "When I buy video games, I go to Wal-Mart."
But the funniest moment came when Logano, nicknamed "Sliced Bread," asked him about his nickname. Gavin had put some thought into this, deciding earlier in the week he might be more talented than Logano and needed a name that would top his hero's.
So he picked a condiment ... or two.
"Butter and Jelly,'' said Gavin, wearing a black driver's uniform with Home Depot plastered all over it.
This time Logano nearly doubled up with laughter.
The two spent the entire time there laughing and talking. Logano seemed mesmerized. None of those in this town of just more than 2,000 were surprised.
"I can't believe how many people Gavin has touched," said his grandfather, Gary Zirbel. "You try to do something for Gavin and he ends up doing something for you."
My day started with a plan to do a story about Logano. It ended with me realizing the story was about Gavin.
The two together were priceless.
"He was as excited as I've ever seen him," said Gavin's mother, Mindy, who helped pull off the big surprise. "When he goes to bed tonight I just know he's going to say, 'This was the best day of my life, Mom.'"
It ranked pretty high for Logano as well.