Nothing surrounding Peggy Coleman was cool, calm and collected May 22 last year. She and her family and friends in Joplin, Mo., were huddled in the safest places they could find, praying, hearts racing, as a wicked tornado with a mounting head of steam and winds of about 250 mph barreled into her neighborhood with devastating and deadly consequences. More than 150 were killed, damage totals added up to $1-3 billion, and Peggy Coleman's home was destroyed.
Vincent Nobile didn't know her then. He was just getting in the groove of his NHRA Pro Stock career. He was starting to take a commanding lead in the race for rookie-of-the-year honors, fresh off his first professional victory at Houston in the Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger.
But Coleman's and Nobile's lives intersected Saturday at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park at Norwalk, Ohio. In stifling-hot weather with temperatures stuck near 100 degrees, Nobile said he was "as cool, calm, and collected as I had ever been since I started racing" as he won the K&N Horsepower Challenge and earned a Toyota Tundra pick-up truck for Coleman.
Nobile, the 21-year-old sophomore sensation from Dix Hills, N.Y., beat three of the NHRA Pro Stock class' toughest competitors to win the bonus race in his first appearance. He brought the Nick Mitsos-owned team the $50,000 winner's share of the purse in becoming the event's youngest winner and fifth driver to triumph in his first try.
However, not even defeating national-event No. 1 qualifier Allen Johnson, 2009 series champion Mike Edwards, and finally K&N Horsepower top qualifier Jason Line thrilled him as much as helping Coleman. She was paired randomly from an online contest with Nobile, as each bonus-race participant had a spectator partner.
"It's not about the money. It's not even about the trophy. It's the story behind Peggy," Nobile said following his 6.750-second holeshot coup at 205.94 mph that topped Line's quicker 6.732 / 205.66. "Winning the race meant winning a Toyota Tundra for Peggy.
"Her house got wrecked by a tornado. It was her day to win something back. I'm glad I could do that for her. She was my full inspiration to win this thing," he said. "Without her and her story, I might not have won it. I can't thank everyone enough."
He said Coleman's situation erased any pressure he might have felt in racing in the K&N Horsepower Challenge for the first time as part of qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals.
"Racing for her helped me," Nobile said. "There was no pressure. If anything, racing for her eased the pressure. I knew she needed the win more than me. For some reason, I was as cool, calm and collected as I had ever been since I started racing."
Nobile said he knew when he was first met Coleman -- without knowing her story of losing all her life's possessions to a tornado and subsequent fire -- something about her was special. "Then I found out her story, and it really touched me," he said. "When I won for her, I was already aware it was just a trophy and money, but for her . . . she got what she deserved."
It was one of those rare times that phrase meant something positive.
Nobile also thanked Mitsos and his crew for making his car capable of setting him up for a chance to win a $25,000 double-up bonus Sunday from the sanctioning body in addition to its race-victory payout of $25,000.
So when Nobile eliminated six-time champion Warren Johnson, muscle-flexing V Gaines, and Allen Johnson Sunday, the Adelphi University business-management student inched ever closer to a $100,000 weekend.
"When it's your day, it's your day," Nobile said Saturday after the dash-for-cash event. "All of those guys are talented, and they all had a chance to win it. Usually, there's one lucky round. Today there wasn't a lucky round to be had. I owe it all to my crew for supplying me with a fast race car. Without them, the Mitsos family and my family, it wouldn't have happened."
Nobile raced Line in Sunday's final round.
# # #