Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Author features Roanoke teen, NASCAR idol

Spencer Roy refuses to sign copies of the book.

His mother is not really sure why. Just chalk it up to stubbornness, perhaps, a trait commonly assigned to the NASCAR driver the 14-year-old Roanoke resident adores.

But Spencer loves the book. After all, he's one of the protagonists in it.

Author Andrew Giangola devoted a chapter of his first book, "The Weekend Starts on Wednesday: True Stories of Remarkable NASCAR Fans," to Spencer's encounter with Tony Stewart in Richmond two years ago.

Considering the chapter is entitled "Spencer Roy Sees the Other Side of Smoke," you probably can guess that the meeting went well. But Stewart's not the star here. As he does in the other stories, Giangola focuses on the souls of the fans, deftly weaving in details that illustrate the passion Spencer and his mom, Stephanie, share for the two-time Cup champion.

Like their cat's name (Tony Stewart). And their pet fish's name (Tony Stewart). And the tattoo that graces Stephanie's arm (Tony Stewart's autograph).

Spencer, who suffers from serious heart and muscle ailments, met Stewart through the Make-A-Wish Foundation at the fall Richmond race in 2008. Giangola, who works in public relations for NASCAR, felt fortunate to be there.

"Tony didn't know I was writing a book," Giangola said by phone Monday. "Tony just thought I was kind of helping manage the appearance. So he wasn't playing for the cameras, so to speak. He was just being Tony.

"That was pretty cool to see him really connecting with this kid, and not only making his day but probably his month and his year and beyond."

His next two years, at the very least. Stephanie Roy said her son still talks about that day constantly. And the result of that night's race -- Jimmie Johnson held off Stewart for the win, denying the boy a celebration with Stewart in Victory Lane -- turned Spencer into a fierce competitor on his NASCAR video game.

"His goal is to wreck Jimmie Johnson," Stephanie said with a chuckle Monday. "If he puts Jimmie Johnson in the wall, he will stop the game. 'Look, Mommy! Look! Jimmie Johnson's upside-down!' "

The memories of everything before the checkered flag waved are positive, though. Stewart -- known for his aggressive driving style and sometimes prickly nature -- was gracious with the youngster.

"Spencer was in his wheelchair at the time, and Tony got down to Spencer's level and signed anything Spencer wanted him to sign," Stephanie said.

"They talked about girls. Spencer's got girlfriends galore, and Tony said he needed to hang out with Spencer because Tony can't get a girlfriend.

"So Spencer was like, 'Yeah, come on! I'll hook you up!' "

Spencer should have an even easier time with the ladies now that he's in this book. Released in mid-February, it's garnered positive reviews from numerous sources, including best-selling author Janet Evanovich.

A copy graces the shelves of James Madison Middle School, where Spencer is about to finish the eighth grade.

"People are very impressed," Stephanie said. "They all know he's a big Tony fan. So for him to go meet Tony and then have his experience in a book, people are just really thrilled to see it."

By all means, buy it and read it. Just don't feel bad if Spencer won't sign your copy.

It's nothing personal.

"He won't even do it for our copy at home!" Stephanie said with a laugh.

Read Aaron McFarling's Daily Sports Briefing on the Press Box blog weekday mornings at http://blogs.roanoke.com/rtblogs/pressbox/

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