It’s a name that have a shared history that will never be taken away – John Nemechek. It’s the name of a former NASCAR truck series driver who lost his life after a crash inside Homestead Miami Speedway and of his nephew, who Friday will hope to win at the same track.
The younger Nemechek, named John Hunter in honor of his uncle and racing in the same Craftsman Truck Series as his uncle, wasn’t even born yet when his namesake crashed into the wall with 25 laps to go turning that fateful race on March 16, 1997. John Nemechek would be airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he died five days later from his injuries.
“Our family has a lot of history at Homestead Miami Speedway,” Nemechek said in an interview with NBC 6. “Being named after Uncle John and driving the No. 8 car at Homestead is definently special for the whole family.”
The day after Nemechek’s accident, crews began scheduled work to make the turns at the speedway less dangerous – a move done in an effort to attract a race from NASCAR’s top series, which would finally take place in 1999. They were changes planned before the crash and ones that likely would have saved Nemechek’s life.
Months after the tragic incident, Joe Nemechek – John’s uncle and John Hunter’s father – won the first race held at the track since the accident in what is now called the Xfinity Series. Joe had named his son, born three months after the accident and five months before his win, after his fallen brother.
“I definitely think there are some emotions there every time you look at a corner here, from my dad to my grandmother and my grandpa,” said John Hunter, who added that while most of his family has since moved from their native Lakeland to North Carolina, they will still be there cheering him on Friday night.
John Hunter was one of the final six drivers in the running for a series championship before a 19th place finish in Texas on November 3rd set him back. While he won’t be running for a title, Nemechek still plans on bringing his best and going for a win.
“If you’re not coming here to win, you don’t need to be here,” he said. “I know there is a championship going on, but at the same time we are here to win races. I definitely think just running up front, having a good run and finishing out 2017 strong definitely will feel good.”
In spite of the tragedy that struck his family, John Hunter knew at a young age this is what he wanted to do.
“I knew I wanted to race from a very young age, I just didn’t know exactly what. I think I was around the age of 11 or 12 when I finally decided I didn’t want to race motocross anymore and get back into a stock car and now we’re here,” he said.
Nemechek will be going for his first win inside Homestead Motor Speedway after finishing second in 2015 and 11th the following year.