In 1993, after he won the last IndyCar race of his illustrious career at age 53, Mario Andretti popped the cork of a giant bottle of champagne on the victory podium at Phoenix International Raceway. It went flying over my head and landed near the retaining wall on the front stretch, where my wife picked it up.
We had been married for just a few weeks. Years later, when Andretti was in town to help open a Firestone tire store in Henderson, I thanked him for the belated wedding present.
It’s still my favorite victory celebration story, but only by a car length, thanks to Ross Chastain, who will drive the No. 42 Chevrolet Chip Ganassi Racing in Sunday’s South Point 400 NASCAR playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In 2018, when Chastain still was struggling to break into the Cup Series, the watermelon farmer from Florida won an Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was his first victory in more than 200 NASCAR starts and touched off one of the most memorable postrace celebrations in LVMS’ 25-year history.
Instead of spraying champagne on spectators in continuing with the sports’ tradition that began after Dan Gurney won the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1967, Chastain lifted a giant watermelon over his head.
He brought the melon to the news conference, where it joined him on the podium and was much more interesting than whatever the winning crew chief had to say.
When he was through answering questions, Chastain took the watermelon back down to the track. He turned it into shrapnel all over the start-finish line, a la the comedian Gallagher, a former Las Vegas showroom backmarker.
Only Chastain did it without a sledgehammer.
Ng splits uprights
Former Bishop Gorman standout Derek Ng booted a 47-yard field goal with 48 seconds remaining, lifting Holy Cross to a 20-17 victory over Yale on Sept. 18.
Derek Ng's 47-yarder turns into the game-winner for Holy Cross… pic.twitter.com/9bAVWBUHFO
— Darryl Hunt (@210Darryl) September 18, 2021
Heartbreak for Wynalda
It has been a terrible time for former Lights FC coach Eric Wynalda, whose mother, Sue, and brother Brandt died from COVID within a week of each other. Sue Wynalda died Sept. 12; Brandt on Sept. 19.
“It is with the heaviest heart and the most sadness I have ever felt to report that we lost my mom today — Covid,” wrote the former U.S. Men’s National Team soccer star on Twitter. “She was the most amazing person and the center of our family. We will always keep her in our hearts.”
After asking his followers to pray for his brother after he was intubated, Wynalda passed along more grim news a few hours later.
“We lost him-”
Thank you to everybody for the messages and the prayers – this was a really difficult day for the family – although it’s hard to imagine a world without my mom I will try to keep her spirit with me every day – thank you again and god bless all of you ❤️ https://t.co/KSh3R61Bgg
— Eric Wynalda (@EricWynalda) September 13, 2021
We lost him – https://t.co/rXxKVBOsBh
— Eric Wynalda (@EricWynalda) September 20, 2021
Ex-MLB ump’s son dies
Bud Venzon was a Clark County firefighter and a colorful character and the son of Tony Venzon, the home plate umpire for four major league no-hitters — including one by Doc Ellis after the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher claimed to have taken LSD. Bud Venzon died Sept. 11 at age 80.
I had the great pleasure of chatting with “Fireman Bud” a few years back. He said he never really got to know his dad, who was 56 when he died in 1971.
“It’s sad,” Bud Venzon told me, after which I said something about how difficult it must have been growing up when your dad was always away calling no-hitters and World Series games.
“No, no, no,” he said. “It was sad for him because he had a son who didn’t give a damn about baseball.”
NASCAR enthusiast Elijah Burke explained on Twitter how Kyle Larson’s victory at Bristol, Tennessee, last week came down to simple mathematics:
“When Chase (Elliott, car No. 9) blocked the hell out of (Kevin) Harvick (car 4) it allowed Larson (car 5) to win, proving that even in NASCAR 9-4=5.”
when Chase blocked the hell out of Harvick it allowed Larson to win, proving that even in NASCAR 9 – 4 = 5
— Elijah Burke (@ElijahWhosoever) September 19, 2021