WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Sunday’s winning crew chief Cole Pearn had the ultimate in mixed emotions — proud and happy to lead his driver Martin Truex Jr. to victory at Watkins Glen; and still so sad and bewildered after losing his best friend four days earlier.
Pearn naturally, and understandably, fluctuated between emotions discussing his team’s fourth victory.
He managed a smile, hoping the good result would honor his dear friend, 35-year old Jacob Damen who passed away — completely unexpectedly from a bacterial infection he got in their native Canada days earlier.
Pearn and Damen grew up together – attending high school and university together; even working together.
And Damen and his young family (he has 4-year-old and 11-month-old boys) were scheduled to attend next week’s race at Michigan as guests of Pearn.
In fact, he had just called Pearn a day before he died so the two could organize the upcoming visit.
Pearn said the community outside Ontario where they grew up may have trouble finding a large enough venue for his friend’s funeral, as Damen was active and popular in his community.
“It’s been probably the hardest week of my life and it’s not over yet,” Pearn said after Truex won as his voice cracked in emotion. “I lost my best friend growing up this week. He caught a random bacterial infection from a cut in his hand the day before. It doesn’t seem real. He’s got two little boys that will never know his dad. He was a heart of gold guy.
“I still haven’t come to terms with it to be honest.”
As happy as the team was for the win, Truex also acknowledged the emotional week his friend and teammate Pearn was going though.
“It was his best friend growing up and he’s completely devastated and shocked,” Truex said. “It definitely makes you feel proud to maybe do something for your friend more than anything — like ‘Hell yes, we did this for him,’ not just for us. And I think he [Pearn] feels a little bit of that. He always wants to win, but I could feel this weekend, he had his buddy with him. He really wanted to win for him. I was glad I was able to be a part of that for him.”