Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Racing family affair for Dean

His father is the crew chief, while his mother takes care of his public relations needs.

MARTINSVILLE -- The first time he went racing, he ran over some guy's head.

OK, so maybe it was just a helmet. But Brandon Dean didn't know that at the time. He was only 5. Maybe 6. Nobody's really sure.

Brandon was wheeling a go-kart, just like his daddy used to, and then -- tha-dump! -- off came a helmet from one of the drivers in front of him, right in his path.

He couldn't swerve away in time.


"He thought he done killed him," said Dean's father, Bryan. "He thought he'd run over his head."

What happened next depends on whom you ask.

If you ask Brandon, he'll say his mother decided racing was way too dangerous at that point, announcing that the kid would never get behind the wheel again. Only a strong argument from his father turned her around.

If you ask Brandon's mother, Tiffany Fisher, she'll tell you that she remembers the incident vividly but never thought it was too big a deal. She'd married a racer, after all. Stuff happens on the track.

And if you ask Brandon's father, Bryan, he'll say it was actually Brandon who got freaked out and started reconsidering the left-turn lifestyle.

Sounds like a typical family, does it not?

Brandon Dean has a lot going for him. The 23-year-old won the Late Model Stock title at Motor Mile Speedway in August. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with a mechanical engineering degree in May. On Sunday, provided he qualifies, he'll run in the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 at Martinsville Speedway, the nation's premier event for Saturday night studs.

But the best thing he might have going for him is his family.

His father is his crew chief. His mother -- though divorced from Bryan for more than a decade (both parents are happily remarried and amicable with each other) -- is his public relations manager.

She's good, too. The website is slick.

"I keep telling him, 'You need to get a real, real [PR] person,' " Fisher said with a laugh. "And he says, 'Mom, I can't afford a real, real person.' "

Racing is expensive enough as it is. If you ever wonder why drivers spend the first 60 seconds of post-race interviews thanking their sponsors, well, now you know. Dean, who resides in Huntersville, N.C., won his share of kart races and championships as a youth, but his asphalt career didn't really take off until last year. That's when he got backing from Travis and Eddie Kiker -- tree service magnates in his home state of North Carolina -- midway through the Motor Mile season.

"Immediately, we knew things were going to get better," said Brandon, who until that point raced with the main goal of keeping his car intact. "It was just a matter of time. We came into this year and were like, let's win a couple races, finish in the top 5 of the championship."

A third-place finisher in the points last season, Brandon trailed Wayne Ramsey until the second-to-last weekend this year. Two strong finishes -- coupled with some tough luck for Ramsey -- vaulted him to the points title.

"Honestly, it wasn't deliberate," Brandon said of the championship. "I just was ready to win races. When the title came along, I was like, it's awesome, because it kind of puts your name in stone that you won the title. That's pretty sweet, but I just want to win more races."

Starting with this weekend. But with some of the nation's best Late Model pilots heading to Martinsville, he knows that will be tough.

"You've got to be extremely lucky here," he said. "You've got to be good, but you've got to miss the wrecks. You've got to be at the right place at the right time, especially with the double-file restarts. Hopefully I can be one of those lucky ones to win this weekend."

If he is, his mother will see it unfold from the stands. His father will watch from the infield, providing guidance in the earphones.

You never know how that will turn out.

"Do we argue?" Brandon said with a chuckle. "I don't even think that's the word for it. Oh, we argue. If we're not arguing, we're probably not running so well. If we're not arguing, there's something going wrong. We definitely have our disputes, but we always get over it."

Take, for example, a recent open practice at Martinsville.

"We don't even make it to lunchtime and me and him have already had it up and down," Brandon said. "And we're pretty fast -- that's what makes it so bad. We're both so competitive. We want the best thing. It's just that he likes going this way to get it, and I like going that way to get it, and it just never seems to work out. Always butting heads, no matter what.

"I can tell I've won [the argument] when he starts to walk off and tells me to go ahead and do whatever the hell it is I want to do. But usually, if I'm sitting in a car with a helmet on, he'll just unplug my radio and act like he can't hear me."

Rest assured that won't happen this weekend. Brandon's mother will be in the bleachers, hoping to rush down and celebrate when it's over. His father will continue to give advice to a driver who doesn't need it nearly as much as he once did at age 5 (or 6) when he was running over "heads."

The only story that's really consistent is this one: His family is awfully proud.

"We'll race as long as we can," Bryan said. "I wouldn't trade anything for it."

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