Troy Pennington's former job took him to 36 different countries in a nine-year span, where he spent night after night playing basketball in front of thousands of people.
But Pennington did so without any of the glory that comes with being a professional basketball player. Why? Because Pennington was a shooting guard for the Washington Generals – better known as the punching bag for the Harlem Globetrotters – and his team lost every single game.
Pennington, a huge Kasey Kahne fan, is the subject of our first NASCAR Fan Spotlight feature. The New Bern, N.C. resident has been attending races for as long as he can remember – except for the period from 1994-2003, when he was traveling the world playing basketball.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s recent winless streak has nothing on the Generals, who haven't beaten the Globetrotters since 1971. The games are part-show, part-real hoops, but Harlem always wins.
"The first five minutes of each quarter was real basketball," said Pennington, 43. "We knew when it was real. If we kept it close, that was a win."
Pennington was born in Marion, Va. and moved to eastern North Carolina when he was in the sixth grade. He began going to NASCAR races long before that, though.
Pennington's dad would pull him out of school for a week every February, and they'd travel down to Daytona in a motorhome owned by Pennington's grandfather.
At age 6, he vividly remembers seeing David Pearson and Richard Petty wreck at the end of the 1976 Daytona 500. He was an avid Petty fan, and he can recall the finish "as plain as day."
Before a 1981 race at North Wilkesboro, Pennington made a deal with his grandfather: If Petty won, his grandpa had to buy Pennington a hat. The King indeed went to Victory Lane that day, and Pennington went home with a brand new No. 43 STP trucker hat – which he still has today.
But as Petty started struggling toward the end of his career, Pennington needed a new driver to support. He rooted for Bill Elliott during the '90s, but largely from afar; his gig as an ace 3-point shooter for the Generals required him to travel for nine months out of the year, and there wasn't any NASCAR coverage overseas.
When Pennington retired from basketball in 2003, Elliott was just about to hand the No. 9 car over to a young driver named Kasey Kahne. Pennington decided to give Kahne a shot and see how he did.
One day, Pennington decided to drop by and check out the newly built Kasey Kahne Racing shop. But when he showed up, the doors were locked. Discouraged, he started walking back to his car until he heard a tapping on one of the windows.
Pennington turned around to see Kahne through a window, holding up his finger as if to say "Hang on!" The driver then hurried to the front door of the building, opened it and told Pennington, "C'mon in!"
"He took me in, showed me the car from his first win at Richmond and talked to me for 15 or 20 minutes like he'd known me forever," Pennington said. "After I left, I called my wife and said, 'No matter what this kid ever does, I'll support him.'"
Now, Pennington has passed that Kahne fandom to his 5-year-old son, Reed. At Bristol this season, he took Reed to a question-and-answer session with Kahne where there were supposedly no autographs allowed.
But when Kahne saw Reed, he bent down and talked to the youngster for five minutes, signing a hero card for him.
That experience just reaffirmed why Pennington loves NASCAR so much.
"To us, it's a family event," he said. "We camp as a family, spend time together at the races as a family. It goes hand-in-hand."
To that end, Pennington can't understand why he hears so many gripes about NASCAR when he listens to Sirius/XM radio on his way to and from work (Pennington is the vice president of a fitness company in eastern North Carolina).
"People call in and complain about everything," he said. "I remember when seeing 15 or 20 minutes of racing on Wide World of Sports was all you got. Now we have more information than ever before, and you can see it on SPEED, TNT, FOX...it's great."
Over the past couple years, Pennington has used Twitter (where his name is @troypennington) to interact with team members, spotters and journalists. He's attended numerous tweetups and says getting to know more fans and people in NASCAR is the best part of the sport.
When he tweeted to No. 5 team race engineer Keith Rodden at Martinsville this year, Rodden came out of the infield and spent 15 minutes talking to Pennington and his family.
"That's what it's all about," Pennington said. "That's what makes NASCAR so great: It's the people."