June 5, 2014

Texan with cancer, two Nemecheks forge NASCAR truck dream

It’s safe to say without much reservation that John Hunter Nemechek’s motorsports career would not have begun to bud at age 16 without Sid Mauldin.

It’s safe to say without much reservation that John Hunter Nemechek’s motorsports career would not have begun to bud at age 16 without Sid Mauldin.

And, likewise, Mauldin wouldn’t be co-owner of the No. 8 Toyota Tundra without John Hunter Nemechek, son of NASCAR veteran Joe Nemechek.

Mauldin’s business in NASCAR is rooted in the bonds of a deep mutual affection, and together they have put to life their respective dreams.

“Here’s this little kid,” Mauldin said, recalling the first time he met John Hunter. “The most well-mannered young man I ever met.

“I’d always wanted to sponsor a team and decided that if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do something for him.”

What developed out of a fast friendship molded four years ago at a chance meeting at Bristol was a partnership between Mauldin and Joe Nemechek, SWM-NEMCO Motorsports. Because of his age, John Hunter Nemechek is restricted to tracks 1 1/4 miles or less.

That means he can’t race in Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 400 on the 1 1/2-mile Texas Motor Speedway.

Instead, Joe Nemechek will navigate the team’s seventh new truck when the race goes green at 8 p.m. Father and son share the ride and have two top-10s in five starts, the best a sixth place by John Hunter in the Lucas Oil 200 at Dover International Speedway. Joe has an eighth.

Joe has 42 NASCAR races under his belt at TMS, including a victory in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race in 2003.

SWM-NEMCO enters Friday night’s race seventh in the owners standings, nine points back of second, which is the spot, at this point in the season, that is being chased since Kyle Busch holds a wide lead on the rest of the field.

John Hunter’s career in trucks began last year when he ran two races, at Martinsville and Phoenix. The experiences, he said, have made him more comfortable this year.

“We’ve been really competitive … not competitive enough to get a top 3,” said John Hunter, who is racing in ARCA’s Milwaukee Mile this weekend. “We’re getting there. We’re a brand-new team still building our notebook.

“We’re getting more competitive each and every week. You’re going up against guys who have raced for years … but we’re not afraid to go fast and push ourselves to the limit.”

John Hunter’s immediate future in racing is foggy. After he graduates early from high school in December, he’ll head off to college to study mechanical engineering. It’s a scholastic ambition that requires so much time and energy that racing might be put on hold, his father admitted.

“I’m trying to teach him everything I’ve learned in 20-plus years in a few years,” said Joe Nemechek, who added that if his son were eligible to drive the bigger tracks, he would be the team’s full-time driver.

“He picks up quick. He’s a very mature individual … and smart. You tell him once, done, he knows. He’s able to apply all that stuff. He doesn’t forget.”

His team of mentors all agree that if he must take off time for school, he’ll be back at some point.

Whatever he does, he’ll have his good friend and mentor in his corner.

Last week at Dover “John Hunter was so fast I got whiplash,” said a beaming Mauldin, 59, a Pampa resident who has lived in the Texas Panhandle town for all but six months of his life.

Beaming seems to be a constant trait of Mauldin’s. He radiates the positive, can-do spirit of the entrepreneur he is. Mauldin founded SWM International Inc. in 1979.

The mentality is helping him beat cancer. It was hard to tell he underwent two rounds of chemotherapy only days prior at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The No. 8’s paint scheme will include the M.D. Anderson logo.

He wore a smile that never left his face, seeming to demonstrate he is indeed having the time of his life, no matter the trials.

“Sid means the world to us,” John Hunter said. “It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime for a 16-year-old. And at the same time, he’s having fun and so are we.”

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