By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA — “Local man is NASCAR champion.”
Beth Spence of Milford said that’s the headline she wanted to read today about Paul Wolfe, formerly of Milford, crew chief for Brad Keselowski, who won his first NASCAR championship Sunday.
Keselowski won the Sprint Cup on Sunday when title contender and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson pulled out of the season finale because of a parts failure. Keselowski stayed out of trouble during the final 60 miles, which turned into 40 victory laps around Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In Oneonta on Sunday, Spence was among fans watching the cars circle the Sprint Cup track appearing on four of five televisions at Oneonta Veterans Club at 279 Chestnut St.
The fact that Wolfe was from Milford focused interest in NASCAR racing on the success of Keselowski, driving No. 2, several local viewers agreed.
About 10 people were at the Veterans Club at different times to watch the race and root for Wolfe. As the cars went around the laps, viewers talked about their visits to Dover, Martinsville, Pocono, Watkins Glen and other tracks. Instead of loud cheering, viewers became absorbed in details of pit stops and quickly pointed out whenever Wolfe or his team members appeared on screen.
Spence, who cooks for functions at the club, said it was her idea to open the doors Sunday for NASCAR fans. She agreed with another viewer that good weather and the start of deer-hunting season deterred attendance Sunday. Football was on the fifth television.
Harriett Hotaling, 86, a former Milford resident, said she watches NASCAR races at home in Davenport with her son-in-law. But Sunday, her son, Tim ODonnell, brought her to the Veterans Club to watch the race. ODonnell said Wolfe’s local roots enhance watching the race.
“I think it’s just great that a local boy is making it good,” ODonnell said.
Wolfe started in NASCAR as a driver in 2000 and worked for a series of teams as a driver and crew chief before joining Penske in 2010. That year, he and Keselowski won Penske’s first national series championship in the Nationwide Series.
The following year, Wolfe joined Keseleowski in the top-tier series, winning three races and finishing fifth for the season.
Spence commented more than once Sunday that the championship could be decided by a crash or the loss of a lug nut.
Racing takes athleticism and precision, she said, and speed in changing two or four tires is crucial.
“A good stop is four tires in 13 seconds,” Spence said. Moments later, Wolfe’s crew changed four tires in 13.2 seconds.
Spence said she considers Chad Knaus, crew chief for Johnson, to be “a genius.” Wolfe moved up through the ranks of the racing world, she said, and now has beaten an established winner and his team.
“The drivers get a lot of attention — the drivers are only as good as the team,” Spence said. “I’m very proud of our Milford’s Paul Wolfe.”