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Check out two other versions of our cover and our poster featuring NASCAR dads and their kids!
Check out two other versions of our cover and our poster featuring NASCAR dads and their kids!

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With Sunday's Daytona 500 kicking off the season, NASCAR dads and their kids recall special moments.

When it comes to the Daytona 500, Michael Waltrip is a two-time champion. But while competing in a Pinewood Derby with his daughter Macy, 12, he's just another clueless dad.

"I thought we had a really hot car," recalls Waltrip, taking a break during a USA WEEKEND Magazine cover shoot with Macy. "But I thought I'd make it faster by shaving the tires a bit. I heard it helped."

"But it didn't, Dad," Macy says. "It was a really slow car."

"Yeah, it was," Waltrip says, with a sheepish grin. "It went right down the race ramp and came to a complete stop halfway through the course."

Waltrip and Macy, as well as our other featured NASCAR dads and kids -- Juan Pablo Montoya and his children, Sebastian, 4, and Paulina, 3; and Jeff Burton and his kids, Paige, 14, and Harrison, 9 -- present a convincing case that NASCAR may be the most family-friendly sport in America. Sure, generations of fathers and their kids have played other pro sports. But in NASCAR, families of the drivers, pit crews and other racing community members travel from track to track, with children enjoying the many "cool" factors of their parents' lifestyle. And, often, those children carry on in the tradition when they get older: Harrison already is experiencing success racing quarter midget cars. And despite being preschool age, Sebastian is a NASCAR expert. "He's so excited to come to the track," Montoya says. "He knows the drivers I race with and all about the car itself. It's amazing to see how much he has soaked in."

All three drivers say the best moments are when a hard-sought win is shared in victory circle with their children. Now that he may be racing in his last Daytona 500, Waltrip is more sentimental than ever about his two wins in that race, the last in 2003. "That moment with her is more important to me now than it was then," he says of Macy. "I had no idea seven years would go by so fast."

NASCAR families try to maintain as much of a sense of normalcy as possible, given the circumstances. The Burton children, for example, go to a local school in North Carolina, where they live and take part in activities with other kids. Paige is a competitive horse rider. She's also a vegetarian, which isn't easy on track weekends, given the wealth of burger and turkey leg stands at the venues. "That's why I take part in the grocery shopping," Paige says. "We buy food and have home-cooked meals in the trailer."

And is Dad also a committed vegetarian?

"No," Paige says, laughing. "I tried to come up with some tofu recipes for him. He tried it for a week. It didn't work out too well."

Cover and photographs for poster montage by Peter Gregoire for USA WEEKEND

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