Martha Nemechek knows full well what it means to worry about-and to lose-someone you love.
Shortly after John Nemechek died as the result of his crash in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck at Homestead Miami Speedway, Martha received a phone call from Gordon Collins, who had lost a daughter in a plane crash. He simply wanted to talk to the grieving mom, to help ease her burden. He knew firsthand the load she carried in her heart and asked to help shoulder some of the weight.
They became friends. Then, later, he asked Martha to do the same for a family that lost a child.And so it began.
From her grief, Martha Nemechek found a calling.
Today, she is an unofficial mother to the men and women in uniform. On race day, she shows up at Joe Nemechek's hauler dressed in desert camouflage, her short-cropped hair stuffed inside a drill sergeant's campaign hat. Her place on the trackside "war wagon" or watching over the action in the pit stall has made her one of the most well-known females in NASCAR, more recognized by fans than even the young women with the supermodel good looks.
At night, she sits by her computer, often working to 3 a.m. It isn't uncommon for her to answer 100 e-mails from people she knows only by first name and e-mail address.
Many of the men and women she first corresponded with are now returning stateside. Some of the soldiers will drop off her e-mail list as family and friends take center stage, while others will remain close to her.
"Most of them just want someone to talk to," she says. "A lot of them know about me and John and Joe's racing. Most of them are fans. Some ask for an autograph or a souvenir. Some aren't even Joe's fans. It doesn't matter. I'll buy another driver's T-shirt and get it autographed and sent off. The important thing is to try to give them what they ask for.
Some ask only for someone on the other end of the Internet, and Martha reaches out to them just as someone reached out to her.
While each of them may be an Army of One, Martha lets them know they aren't alone.