In The News: Allmendingers credit success to...June 26, 2008
By Raygan Swan, NASCAR.COM
June 20, 2008
01:41 PM EDT
Ponder, if you will, a dog changing the way you view life.
A canine, and all its four-legged glory, teaching you the art of enjoying life to the fullest without apprehension, teaching you what it is to love without conditions, and teaching you devotion without distraction.
In the best-selling book Marley & Me, author John Grogan tells the story of how his dog, a neurotic yellow Labrador, taught him the importance of life and love.
Well, the story has spread into NASCAR country, specifically into the home of A.J. and Lynne Allmendinger.
By a twist of fate, the Allmendingers are now living their own life with Marley, or Misty as the name they've chosen for their neurotic yellow dog. And they admit the Labrador has positively changed their lives.
Prior to Misty, the idea of the newlyweds adopting a dog had been tabled. Tabled until April when Lynne Allmendinger was sent a You Tube video posted by a Daytona breeder starring the most adorable, nearly white, yellow Labradors.
Lynne was sold instantly, but what she didn't know is that her soon-to-be family member was already a celebrity in her own rite.
Ironically, the litter of puppies the breeder was pushing had just wrapped up filming Marley & Me, the movie adaptation of Grogan's best-seller staring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.
The lead dog in the movie Marley was partly played by Misty Allmendinger, and she has traded her celebrity status for life on the NASCAR road.
"She's pretty demanding and for a while she would only drink out of a golden water bowl," laughed A.J. Allmendinger, Sprint Cup Series driver for Red Bull Racing.
Jokes aside, the 32-pound ball of fur and fervor has improved Allmendinger's stress level, and his wife even ventures to say the dog has improved her husband's performance on the track (Allmendinger unleashed).
"I'm learning to be more relaxed," the California native said. "Before Misty, I would come back from practice and sit and stress out until it was time to qualify -- every weekend it was like that. Now after practice I come back to my bus, play with the dog and not even look at my watch. More than anything she keeps my mind on something enjoyable and I'm not obsessing about the car."
A former Champ Car Series driver, Allmendinger's start in NASCAR was fraught with hurdles as the driver found himself failing to qualify for several races, namely the Daytona 500 both this season and last.
To his credit, he joined Red Bull Racing in 2007, a new team with no accumulated owner points to guarantee him a spot in the races, and the team was also acclimating to the sport's new manufacturer, Toyota.
His teammate, Brian Vickers, said Allmendinger is a talented racecar driver with great car control, but people need to be reminded that stock cars are still new territory for the 26-year-old.
"People forget, and it's really not fair to him, that he never raced ovals or stock cars his entire career, his entire life," Vickers said. "And then he just went straight into Cup racing, ran a few Truck races and went straight to Cup, which in hindsight probably wasn't quite the approach that should have been taken. But he dealt with it, and he's rebounded."
After missing the first three races at the start of the season, the Red Bull Racing team put veteran Mike Skinner in the No. 84 to help with points.
"I think that really helped the team kind of understand some of the things that A.J. was feeling and helped him and the team and the whole process, and helped those guys get a little bit of a head start on the top 35," Vickers said.
Understandably, Allmendinger was frustrated by the driver change but knew it was for the greater good of the team.
This year he has three top-20 finishes and also won the NASCAR Sprint Showdown in May, putting his team in the All-Star event at Lowe's Motor Speedway. In the Pocono 500, the driver brought home a career-best finish of 12th.
Allmendinger said building new cars has helped him run up front and out of the fray of running mid-to-back of the pack.
"Racing is so much easier when you're up front," he said. "It's cut-throat when you're back there. Panic sets in for a lot of those drivers battling ill-handling cars and the fear of losing your lap makes it worse."
The team is picking up momentum as well as speed. Still, Lynne Allmendinger said her husband feels he has much to prove and is the most focused person she's ever met.
"There's no walking away from racing at the end of the day, at 5 p.m., for A.J.," she said. "He carries it with him everywhere he goes."
Which is why the dog, Misty, has become a welcomed addition to their lives.
"He cares just as much, but he's able to direct his attention somewhere else and share those important things and moments he's blocked out because of his focus on racing," she said. "Now someone else is depending on him and needing some attention and it's a good thing."
Whether you believe it or not, Lynne Allmendinger will tell you Misty has become her husband's good luck charm.
"We brought her home in April and if you look at our history placing in the races -- call her good luck or whatever you want, but we've had good finishes since she's come around," Lynne said.
Dogs of course are not allowed in the Cup garage, but the No. 84 team insists the Allmendingers bring Misty around, so Lynne sneaks her in when she can, depending on which NASCAR official is manning the garage that day of course.
Misty sports a pink bandana with the No. 84 on it and has become the team's mascot.
Lynne Allmendinger said she's there to provide comic relief as well.
"If I know A.J. is stressed out, I'll send him a picture of her on the phone and say, 'Hey, she just stuck her head in the toilet and blew bubbles.' She is such a ham," Lynne said.
Looking back at life prior to Misty, Lynne Allmendinger said she isn't quite sure what the couple did with their time.
"When I brought her home, she ran right to A.J. and tackled him with all 15 pounds of her; she had the hugest feet and stumbled all over the place," she said.
Since then, the two have been inseparable; like any "boy and his dog" type story, the two have become fast friends.
Today, Lynne Allmendinger said the dog is teaching them how to grow into a family, a precursor for life with children, so to speak.
And like a child, Misty goes everywhere with the couple.
"I think she's brought us even closer together," Lynne Allmendinger said. "A.J. refers to me as Mama and he's now Daddy."
"She's just one of those things that helps keep everything relaxed," A.J. Allmendinger said. "In a way she keeps me a little more relaxed before I get in the racecar."
So much like the heartwarming and unforgettable story told in Marley & Me, the Allmendingers are learning life's important lessons through their own neurotic yellow dog set on NASCAR's stage.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.