An ag teacher and Busch-el of money
It's 9:45 Thursday morning in Broken Bow, Okla., and Michael McGee is cleaning the tool room at Broken Bow High. He's an agriculture teacher, and he's been gone for a few days. His tool room is cluttered.
Fact is, these days he could hire someone else to tidy up. After all, he's been a millionaire for four days now, as of Lap 334 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, when Kurt Busch sped under the checkers in the No. 2 Dodge.
For all intents and purposes, McGee won the lottery.
See, McGee, 25, is Dickies' American Worker of the Year, chosen two weeks ago in Las Vegas after a nationwide search that included thousands of nominations. The idea is simple: to recognize folks from underappreciated employment fields, the ones Alabama sang about in "40-Hour Week" -- farmers, builders, mechanics, teachers, roughnecks, soldiers, the like -- and give them an opportunity to win big.
In Vegas, McGee won $50,000 and a first-class trip to Fort Worth. Once there, he randomly drew a Chase driver's name to win the Cup race. If said driver won the race, McGee would win a mil.
He drew Busch.
Hello, tax man.
"We were down in the infield so we couldn't see it," McGee said when asked his reaction to Kyle Busch running out of gas and handing Kurt the lead with three laps to go. "We were watching the [scoring pylon] and he was second, second, second. Then suddenly everybody started screaming, and I looked up and he'd moved up to first.
"That was three laps to go. Everybody was screaming and pouring beer all over the place. It was awesome. I don't know how else to explain it."
McGee wasn't a race fan before last weekend. He is now: a Kurt Busch fan for life.
"It was the perfect scenario," Busch said after the race. "The chances of that happening? Hmmmm. Slim to none."
McGee would catch a lap or two here and there on Sunday afternoons but wasn't much concerned with it. So when he drew Busch, he didn't know what to think.
"One of my friends said, 'Yeah he's OK But I wish you'd have drawn the 48.' Good thing I didn't draw the 48."
Good thing he didn't hang up the phone when Dickies called.
McGee is the unassuming type, humble and seemingly incapable of boastfulness.
He was valedictorian of his high school and put himself through college at Oklahoma State. Two years ago, at 23, he bought a house and 41 acres and started a horse-training business. He wants to ride professionally someday.
He's a hands-on teacher, too, and often works nights and weekends to support projects through which his 200-plus students can apply skills learned in the classroom. Things like showing and exhibiting animals in hopes of making a premium at sale, or running a welding shop or the produce department at the grocery store. He's active in Future Farmers of America, too. He told me he wants to cultivate leaders.
It was McGee's leadership that prompted his mother to nominate him for the Dickies contest. He had no idea she'd done so until his phone rang one day with the news. He figured it was a telemarketer and nearly hung up.
"Glad I didn't," he laughed, trying to stifle a big ol' ear-to-ear grin.
When I met McGee, hours after he'd hoisted the check with the one and six zeroes in Victory Lane, it hadn't registered. That was readily obvious. We sat on a veranda at a hotel across the street from the racetrack for a few minutes, and he eased through the motions with no concept of what had just happened.
All he knew was that he won a Busch-el of green.
I asked him what he'd do with the money. He didn't want a new truck or any bling -- McGee doesn't do bling. He hoped to pay off his mortgage and build a new horse barn and a covered arena. It rains a lot in Broken Bow. A covered arena would mean he'd be largely immune to bad weather. He could ride when he wanted to ride.
And then there's charity.
"I'd also like to do some sort of scholarship for students going into the ag field," he told me Sunday evening. "I can give back, as well. That's important. So many people have helped me get to where I am today, and I don't want to hoard that. I want to give back to people."
When a man says something like that, ears perk from Broken Bow to Boston. Especially from a guy like McGee, who doesn't say much. When he does, it oozes honesty and vulnerability. Suddenly this obscure ag teacher is on everyone's wish list.
I talked to him again Thursday. The phone hasn't stopped ringing.
"I've already had schools trying to contact me to donate money and all kinds of stuff -- that's been different," he said. "I'm not used to that, for sure. But you have people coming out of the woodwork wanting to help you invest your money and donate it.
"When I figure this all out, I'm going to have to get someone to help me manage it, and try to avoid paying quite as many taxes and help me invest it."
with Marty Smith
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That's a vital step for him. In an instant, his life changed forever. And he didn't even know it. It's wonderful. And scary.
The initial plan was to drive back to Broken Bow from Dallas on Sunday evening. Go figure; McGee wanted to be back at school first thing Monday morning. But when a man wins a million bucks, people want to chat. So he did. A lot.
"Once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said. "Something I'll remember forever. But it felt pretty good to be normal again, to be regular ol' Mike again. All those reporters and stuff? It was neat for a while, but I can tell you I surely wouldn't want to be a movie star or somebody famous. I wouldn't want to be in that situation for very long. It's nice to calm down and be back to normal."
Sort of normal. When McGee got back to Broken Bow, there was a congratulatory banner hanging across North Broadway Street, the main drag through town. When he walked into school Tuesday morning, the kids were ecstatic. But the general vibe was noticeably different.
I asked how it was different. After a lengthy pause, he gave it up. Suddenly, he has several new "friends."
"I guess just everybody knowing you won some money," he said. "Your friends? They won't treat you any different. But the average ol' Joe, they might think you could offer them something or want some money or something like that. But most of the people in the community have been really happy for me."
As well they should be. A good thing happened to a good person.
That's how it's supposed to be.
I went to Texas this weekend and noticed that the number of Kyle Busch fans has increased tenfold since the spring. His apparel was easily spotted in any given crowd, and he had more cheers than boos at all three driver introductions. He has always been overwhelmed with boos in the past.
What gives? I'd call it bandwagoning, but he's not even in the Chase. Is this just a regional phenomenon? Are these new fans or converts from other drivers? I was beginning to think I was the only fan of drivers going for wins rather than racing for points. I gotta throw in a Boomer Sooner for all those bandwagon Texas fans I saw. We'll have an O-line next year!
-- Patrick Colley, Moore, Okla.
The reason people are drawn to Busch is simple, Patrick: He drives like his hair is on fire and doesn't apologize for it.
If you think about it, his sponsor is fitting: As far as the fans are concerned, Busch is a human M&M in a big ol' vat of vanilla ice cream.
My biggest fear is our criticism of him will completely change him. And I've been as critical as anyone about his attitude in the past. People -- me included -- love his passion. What we don't love is when he runs away from adversity. Since midsummer, he has more often than not manned up. That's what people want: a guy that drives his guts out and answers for it no matter the outcome.
And you're seeing the proof.
Brad Keselowski is a really aggressive driver. I love it. It's been a while since we saw a guy come along and ruffle feathers and not care what anybody says about it. Do you agree?
-- Phil in Orange, Va.
There is no question the sport benefits from conflict, Phil. And like I said about Busch, a lot of fans these days are looking for a driver to embrace that doesn't get out of his car and say how great it is to finish fourth and how sorry he is to have roughed up another guy to get there.
But to me there are two key points about Keselowski's approach: It has worked in the Nationwide Series because he's up front contending every week. It simply won't work if he's running in the back.
And the even bigger point: He'd better get ready for payback. When you race like that, you get raced like that.
And believe me, his competitors have taken notice.
I have been at the past two Martinsville races and love the atmosphere. It's just so down to earth. But I'm worried they are going to lose a race. Why not add lights? Adding a night race may spice up the action and give it that Saturday night short-track feel. Not too mention the increase in jobs for an area hit hard by the economy.
-- Gary T. King, Louisa, Va.
NASCAR's not dumb enough to take a date from Martinsville, Gary. I hope not, anyway. They had to have learned from Darlington, right? It all depends on what you want, and to me good racing and a six-pack of Budweiser make for a much better show than sushi and Gucci and late debris cautions.
Martinsville is one of the best shows of the year, true door-bangin' gladiator stuff. Yes, night racing there would be awesome. But International Speedway Corporation would have to pony up for it. Are they committed enough to Martinsville to do so?
On a related note: Race cars will grace North Wilkesboro Speedway in 2010. USARacing will hold one of its 11 events there.
They may have to throw the caution and pull out the jet dryers. There will be plenty of tears.
I hate Jimmie Johnson. Convince me to watch these last couple of races.
-- Jordan Bissinger, Provo, Utah
Um. Maybe your driver could win? Possibly?
That's my time. Thank you for yours. No Phoenix for me. I'm staring down a weekend full of chocolate-sprinkle cupcakes, Skittles and bumper-bowling. My little man turned 4 this week. Unbelievable.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.
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