ST. AGATHA – NASCAR’s Jerry Nadeau was out for dinner with members of his family Saturday night when he quickly became the favorite item off the menu at Lakeview Restaurant.
Scores of Winston Cup racing fans quickly moved in on the driver with all kinds of requests. Nadeau thought it was to be a quiet dinner with members of his family before he left town on Sunday.
Gerald and Pauline [Cyr] Nadeau, Jerry Nadeau’s parents, are natives of the St. John Valley. The parents now live in Danbury, Conn., and the NASCAR driver lives in Charlotte, N.C. Jerry Nadeau came to the valley to be best man at his cousin’s wedding on Friday night at Clair, New Brunswick.
The news that the Winston Cup driver was in the area spread quickly during the week. In a small area like the valley, it was hard to keep it secret that the Petty Enterprise corporate jet had landed at the Northern Aroostook Regional Airport at Frenchville on Wednesday.
On Saturday many people were talking of the driver’s family supper Saturday night at the Lakeview Restaurant. Whether Nadeau was their favorite driver, for NASCAR fans, he was Winston Cup on Saturday night.
“It’s been a tough year on the track, but I still had fun,” he said in between talking with family members. “Good things are happening, and will be happening.
“I learned a lot going through a year like I had this year,” he added. “This will be a good opportunity for me.”
This week, the Danbury, Conn., native was in the land of his parents and grandparents where his name is pronounced “Nado,” not “Nadew” as it is pronounced by broadcasters as he hurtles through racecourses at speeds in excess of 160 miles per hour.
“I came for Brian’s wedding,” Nadeau said while waiting for his supper. “We grew up together for a few years when we were very young and are very good friends.
“It had been eight years since the last time I was here, and I hadn’t seen my grandparents since,” he said. “It’s pretty neat seeing people I hadn’t seen in a long time.”
He said there is little chance for him to come to northern Maine. He does come when he has a chance. The wedding, between his cousin Brian Nadeau and Debbie Couture, was planned 18 months ago to be sure the driver could attend.
Despite all having been together Friday night at the wedding in Clair, New Brunswick, 55 of his relatives showed up for supper Saturday night. He had expected a handful.
Nadeau spoke French with his relatives. He said the language has stuck, despite the few times he gets to practice it.
Rest was not on his agenda this week.
“It’s been go, go, go since I got off the plane,” he said. “I don’t get much time to stop with the families my parents have here.”
His father was the oldest in a family of 14 kids, and his mother comes from a family of 13 kids.
“It’s all worth it,” he said. “But, I am anxious to return to Charlotte and see my wife.”
After a good year in 2001, where Nadeau placed 17th in points, he finished 37th this season, with only one race in the top 20.
Saturday night, however, it was like he had won the Winston Cup points title. Other than when the driver was eating, people sought his autograph, a chance to shake his hand or just to say hi. To fans there, Nadeau was the first NASCAR driver to ever come to the St. John Valley.
“This is the other NASCAR driver with Maine roots,” one man was overheard telling his friend. The Maine native who drives in the Winston Cup is Newburgh’s Ricky Craven.
For most of the 21/2 hours Nadeau was at the restaurant, he held court, signing Winston Cup Series calendars, photos of the cars he has driven, and the one he will drive next season, beer bottles and small foam plates which were used to distribute a cake the owners of the restaurant, Carol and Dick Derosier, made for his appearance.
Driver of the No. 44 car, owned by Kyle Petty and sponsored by Georgia Pacific, for much of the 2002 season, Nadeau has signed a two-year contract with MB2 Motorsports to drive the No. 36 Pontiac, sponsored by the U.S. Army, next season. The number of the car will possibly be changing to 01, while running with teammate Johnny Benson who drives the No. 10 car.
Nadeau has been racing since he was 6. He started his journey to the Winston Cup Series with kart racing through the 1980s. He joined the professional ranks in the Skip Barber Eastern Formula Ford Series in 1991. He was rookie of the year with eight victories.
After honing his racing skills for four years, he decided in 1995 to join the ranks of NASCAR through the Busch Series. In 1996, he raced in the Formula Opel European Union in England placing sixth.
He returned to NASCAR in the Winston Cup Series in 1997 with team owner, Richard Jackson. In 2000, he was 20th in the Winston Cup Series.