This article belongs to In Search of Laughs! column.

(And it has very little to do with NASCAR)


NASCAR's famed Nextel Cup Championship goes to Jimmie Johnson of El Cajon, California! Homestead Raceway hosted the last contest of the year. It was a season that seemed charmed by an unearthly power!  Tens of thousands of loyal fans were joined by    thousands and thousands of new admirers to watch, hoot, and cheer for that cool-handed driver of the Lowe's # 48 car.


One of those new fans was my friend, Rita Applegate. At the age of eighty-three, Rita was not actually the typical kind of fan NASCAR expects, or pursues.  She learned about Cup races from her daughter, a true motorhead (racing fan) since the old "High-groove" Harry Gant days. They even saw a Cup race together at The California Speedway in Fontana in 2005. (That darn Greg Biffle in the #16 car won.)


By some divine coincidence, Jimmie's grandmother, Barbara, belonged to the same church as Rita: Santa Sophia, in nearby Casa De Oro, a hilly suburb of San Diego, close to El Cajon.  Rita and Barbara just hit it off wonderfully, and they also shared an exercise class. Soon Rita became a Jimmie Johnson fan. Suddenly, if Jimmie didn't do well, Rita noticed. All the other drivers might just as well have spit on Rita's floor, for they could do no right in her eyes. Poor Tony, poor Junior, and believe it or not poor Jeff Gordon, Jimmie's teammate.  Rita only rooted for Jimmie Johnson!


Jimmie and the 48 car did very well this year. (With Rita's help.) He won ten races, including the last four before the season's closer, which if you didn't notice, was won by that darn Matt Kennseth in the #17 car. Jimmie married Chandra and gave her the year of his life as a driver.  His twenty-six career wins make him the only driver in the modern era to win at least three times in each of his first five seasons.  Jimmie always thanks his fans.  He says they give him a lot of motivation.


In October this year, Rita was diagnosed with cancer. Two weeks ago, she fell and broke her hip. Ten days later, on Monday, she passed away. But, on Sunday, the day before, mother and daughter watched the Homestead race together from Rita's hospital room. Jimmie finished seventh and clinched the Championship. It made Rita very happy.  It probably was the last thing she ever saw, as the pain medication let her then sleep comfortably. But,   Barbara and Rita's darling Jimmie had won the championship! Rita knew! Of this, I am sure.


Rita Applegate, widow of Coe, is survived by her beloved daughter Denise, from Los Angeles, CA. Please, pray for them both!


I'm not the kind of guy to idolize, or even follow athletes much.  But, I am a Mom fan, and I was a fan of Rita Applegate!  Rita was a Jimmie Johnson fan. She was even a member of his fan club. (Rita didn't like the hats!) Maybe, in some small way, perhaps Jimmie was one of Rita's heroes. 


For the distraction Mr. Johnson gave Rita and her Denise at the most critical times, I thank him from the bottom of my heart. Thanks Jimmie!  Keep doin' what you do! It gives more people joy, than you will ever know!  You da man!  For the thrills and hopes that he gave to Rita Applegate, I will always follow his career. 


That's why Jimmie  Johnson is now my heroÖfor what he did for Rita!