It was an invasion of sorts, although fields of green corn standing tall and blowing in the wind look about the same in August, whether it's Indiana or North Carolina.

The year was 1994, and NASCAR was taking its long-standing show to Hoosierland, going to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the very first time.

Tony George, president of Indy, and Bill France, president of NASCAR, had come to terms and even had a name for the race-the Brickyard 400.

All was going well, although we from down South knew some of the highbrows of open-wheel racing figured next to opening the speedway for goat roping and a barbecue festival, stock cars were the worst thing

Why, the next thing you know, they figured, that crowd of Southerners will be trying to hold Saturday night barn dances in our basketball gymnasiums, and three-day fiddler conventions all along the banks of the Wabash.

Most of the Indiana media, or the ones that counted, met regulars on the stock car beat with open arms and were super nice.

On the opening day of qualifying, Rick Mast, not exactly a household name on some streets in South Bend, captured the pole position. The natives were expecting Jeff Gordon, who grew up down the road a ways

Members of the media took their seats in the press room, and Mast, a native son of the great Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia, a son of the soil from Rockbridge Bath, was about to speak

"Yes, Washington and Lee University is near my home. And before you bring it up, I have never been asked to sit in Robert E. Lee's office chair, which is on the campus," Mast said. "I don't live far from Lexington, where both Washington and Lee and VMI are located. We're rather smart people, and it takes two colleges for some of us."

Mast laughed and joked with the media, and told about how he got into racing. He is quick with wit and good with stories. "My daddy and uncle had this little racetrack there close to home," he related. "Man, I wanted to race from the time I was just a kid, but I knew I had to come up with my own racecar. I didn't have much money."

There was a young lady from one of the Indiana newspapers who kept digging and digging, obviously trying to find out from Mast what reform school he had escaped from. She was going to make him a rough-and-rowdy good old Southern boy, whether he was or not, and Mast in no way fits the mold she was trying to put him into.

"How did you get the money?" she asked.

"Well, I had a cow," he explained, "and I traded my cow for my first racecar."

"What was the cow's name?" she asked.

Mast looked at her and smiled just a little. She had stepped over the last log on the way to the fireplace and didn't know it. "Madam, where I come from cows don't have names until about 2 o'clock in the morning."

The press room came unglued with laughter, and Mast became a favorite with all the media, North and South, as if he wasn't already with the stock car press corps.

He is a prince of a guy, still living in this place called Rockbridge Bath, Virginia, just a few miles from Natural Bridge, and not far from a resort called Homestead.

So what is he doing these days? "Just about everything my wife asks me to do," he says.

Rick ran into some problems, or some problems ran into him. Anyway, he was sick for a long time, and is doing well now

His last race was the All-Star Challenge event at Lowe's Motor Speedway in2002.

"I think it began in March of 2002," he says. "I woke up at Bristol and didn't feel well. Things never got better after that. When I ran the Challenge race at Charlotte, I knew I couldn't drive 600 miles. After the 50-mile Challenge event, I could hardly get in my street car."

What Mast had was carbon monoxide poisoning, and it took him a long time and a lot of pain to find out. He had dizziness, headaches and nausea. The doctors were running test after test.