The thermostat read around 100 degrees, as a small, tan and white kitten weighing 0.8 pounds hid under a dumpster on an August afternoon in a North Carolina neighborhood.
“I think I was actually doing ‘Race Hub’ that day and during the show, I was getting text messages from Tara that they had found a cat under a dumpster,” Allmendinger recalled on Aug. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway. “So, (they’re) trying to get this cat out. … They had got him to eat a little bit, but every time they’d try to grab him, he’d run right back in the middle of it (and) you couldn’t get him. I sat there probably for an hour trying to drag him out, figure out something — cat was pretty smart, he didn’t want to be caught.
“I try not to have that much of a heart most of the time,” Allmendinger continued with a smile, “But you know I had to have one. I was like, ‘It’s 105 degrees outside right now, you can tell that this cat is tiny — he may not be there tomorrow or he might be there, but not the way we want to see him.’ “
The group eventually scraped the kitten from under the dumpster and took him back to Allmendinger and Meador’s house, while he was
“screaming and swatting.” But it didn’t take long for the tiny animal to feel at home in the comforts of blankets and a full belly — then cross-country trips to race tracks.
Thus began the adventures of Mr. Tickles the traveling cat.
“It’s been fun, you know, because with the airlines that we fly on as a team, it’s not like you can bring your own dog on the plane or anything like that,” Allmendinger said. “So we’ve got a little cat backpack and he gets in it and gets under the chair and goes to sleep and it’s good entertainment throughout the course of a weekend when I’m stressing myself out.
“He’s definitely … the airplane cat because people that are big cat people are like, ‘Is Tickles on here?’ We’ve passed him around before … he’s got a funny personality on him. He talks a lot, he can be a pain in the butt sometimes — I guess he’s a lot like me,” Allmendinger joked.
Wait … he talks?
Yep, and does tricks, Allmendinger says.
“He’ll shake with his right paw; left paw, he’ll fist pound you,” Allmendinger said. “So if you say, ‘Fist pound or jab,’ because Tara’s gotten into boxing … and he knows which paw is which. … He’ll definitely speak at you; if you tell him to speak, he’ll meow at you.”
Mr. Tickles’ talents are depicted on his three social media pages — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and he tallies more than 1,500 followers on Twitter alone. His Twitter bio says, “It’s not easy being the kitten, but someone has to do it.”
“Cat’s got more followers than me,” No. 47 crew chief Randall Burnett chimed in as he entered the hauler.
“He’s way nicer and he’s way more fun to be around and he’s way cuter,” Allmendinger joked back.
“That’s not true, I’m pretty charming to be around,” Burnett said.
Don’t underestimate the power of big kitty-cat eyes, Randall. They’ve definitely captured the attention of fans.
“My Twitter page is filled up with people sending me their cat pictures,” Allmendinger said. “That’s what I get. Like, ‘Oh look it, look at Mr. Butters!’
“A few weeks ago, (after) one of the Saturday races, (on) Sunday Tara and I are just having a fun day and we happen to be kind of in this shopping center area down in Charlotte and went into this store. They had some birthday cards of cats and I’m like, ‘Oh look it, it’s Mr. Tickles right here.’ The lady working there … said, ‘Mr. Tickles? I love that cat, I follow him.’ … I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ She’s like, ‘I thought it was you, AJ.’
“There are people that come out of the woodwork or big cat people that love Mr. Tickles.”
Allmendinger says he wasn’t always a cat person — “I’m a bigger dog person,” he admits — but the cuteness that is Mr. Tickles enraptured him from the beginning. And it’s been made clear that the Allmedinger-Meador house is now governed by Mr. Tickles — no other animal is allowed.
“He hates everybody,” Allmendinger said. “He hates every type of animal. We’ve always wanted to get a dog as well at the right time — I don’t think that’s going to happen because he may kill the dog. I guess, like one of his owners, he’s an only child and shows it.
“Now he runs the show at the house. It’s his house — he doesn’t need anyone messing around, any other animals coming in to take over his house. He doesn’t play well with others.”
With his following, Mr. Tickles may not ever have to adjust his attitude. Just have him give a little furry fist pound and all ‘tude is forgiven.
Just make sure you provide a treat afterward.