Driver thrills 4-year-old with hug at Preseason Thunder
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- At just 4 years old, Anthony Zotaro learned a valuable life lesson about being in the right place at the right time.
On the final day of Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway, Zotaro’s grandfather decided to take the young race fan to the track, knowing it was something they could appreciate together.
“Every Sunday, he sits in front of the TV and watches races,” Tim Spry said about his grandson. “He’s been to five or six races, and he’s not even 5 yet.”
"It was just unbelievable. He’s amazed with it. I was shaking to see it happen."
-- Tim Spry, grandfather of 4-year-old Anthony Zotaro
Tim Spry and Anthony Zotaro
The two spent the early part of Jan. 12 in the track’s infield watching the cars and lining up for autographs. Toward the end of the morning practice, they walked to the garage’s entrance gate, hoping for just a little more.
“We went around the corner of the building and all of sudden we see her come out, standing there,” Spry said.
It was NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Danica Patrick. She was walking back to her car after a short break, with the top half of her driver’s suit tied around her waist. Zotaro immediately recognized Patrick and let out a high-pitched “Danica!” scream appropriate for a 4-year-old.
Patrick heard Zotaro’s call and looked in his direction with a smile. Zotaro blew her a kiss, and Patrick returned the favor. Then she went one step further.
“She said ‘Come here, I’ll give you a hug’. And I said ‘He can’t go in there,’ ” said Spry, who was in disbelief his grandson would be allowed to pass the security gate. “And she goes ‘Yes he can.’ ”
With little hesitation, Zotaro made the short sprint and Patrick met him halfway. Even with Patrick down on one knee, he stood on the tips of his toes to get his arms around her. The result was a smile that will be hard to ever duplicate.
“It was just unbelievable,” Spry said. “He’s amazed with it. I was shaking to see it happen.”
The moment, of course, didn’t last long. But it was long enough that Patrick posed with the young boy while Spry took out his flip phone and did his best to snap a photo. She went back to her race car, while Spry put his grandson up on his shoulders, still grinning from ear to ear.
“I feel like I want her to be my girlfriend,” Zotaro said.
Patrick’s gesture reinforced the feelings Spry already had about the sport. A fan since the 1980s, he praised the access fans have to drivers.
“NASCAR is the only place you can get this close to drivers and get autographs and be able to sit down and talk to them,” he said. “You go to any other stick and ball sport, you can’t get that close. I’m a big sports fan. I go to football games. You can stand on the sideline but you can’t get close to them. They won’t even recognize you.
“This is a moment we’ll never forget.”