Column and photo by Richard Cunningham
From May 21, 1997 Issue of Racing News
Living DreamsÖ Interviewing Jesse Samples Jr. was easy. Almost too easy. He wrote a great story himself in telling his racing experiences to me. He seemed very much the "seasoned, aged veteran."
It was very fascinating for me to meet Jesse. Looking back I took notice of Jesse, because as I thought he was, I was planning this racing career I have back in the mid-80ís. As Jesse was dealing with lifeís decisions, I was taking my own steps. I hoped one day our paths would cross, I just didnít expect this to be exactly how. I figured he would be some hard to reach superstar at this point in life, at least from what was written of him back in the late 80ís.
He wasnít hard to reach. And from his Florida home, we dealt with getting acquainted over the phone. Actually meeting and my picking to set in the stands at Charlotte Motor Speedway to do the interview seemed to add to the eerie feeling of actually meeting him in person several weeks ago.
I remember reading that May 29, 1986 issue proclaiming, as both Coy Bays and Wayne Kindness wrote, Jesse Samples Jr. to be a big star. Coy wrote of the great, C-H-A-R-I-S-M-A this teenager had. Weíll some 11 years later he still has it, although altered by age.
We set there and talked, as he shared his career without interruption for me. I donít think I asked over a handful of questions to him. When I planned this interview I wanted it to be a "Who are they now? type of piece as to a more negative out-looked Ė "Where are they now?" Jesse filled in any questions, before I could ask. He spent an hour reflecting on a career that got a perfect start, but fell apart.
After writing the story, I couldnít help but hope for a different ending. Letting a couple of people read it in the office, they too were looking for the punch line almost. But the truth is there is no punch line.
I was afraid when we started these looks back at some of the people over the years that showed great potential, but for one reason or the other never fulfilled the expected results, it might be sad. I hope for stories on others like Tim Nooner and Brian Leslie. Thatís why I wanted them to be "Who are they now" type of stories. But the reality is that since we are race fans, involved in this sport, we want them to be having success in racing now. Itís not always that a way.
Jesse is living a wonderful life. Heís very content and happy person, except maybe for me forcing him to reflect back and think about where he might be now if he had continued down the same road he was on.
There are so many questions. He was then, what Jeff Gordon is now. Where would that have placed Gordon in history? He might not have been this young, hip, cool, Peopleís Magazineís 50 Most Beautiful-persona we have now. It would have already been done by Samples.
Then again, you never know. He raced alongside rob Moroso and Moroso sadly never fulfilled his potential, but he never got to fulfill any potential as Samples is getting to do just by living life.
In talking with Jesse, it really brought forward how much life is determined by fate Ė plain and simple.
I hope you enjoy the feature. For me it was very self-rewarding. I finally fulfilled one of my dreams of meeting him and in some way having a slight impact on his life in sharing his story with you the readers, some of whom will remember like I did, and for some an introduction to one who was there but is now living a different life outside of racing.
As we said out good-byes, Jesse said, "Richard, I hope your dreams come true." Well Jess- I admit you caused me to shed a tear, because in some ways you were a part of the overall dream and writing about you came true. But in another way I shed the tear, because I wish you were here dreaming with us and I was writing about you week in and week out in victory lane.
Iíve got to close now; thereís a race at Charlotte. Iíve got to be there to see who is in victory lane Ė maybe it will be some young, newcomer, destine forÖ
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