Father’s Day has special meaning for full-time dad, crew chief Kevin Manion
The Sporting News - Bob Pockrass
June 15, 2012
BROOKLYN, Mich.— If Kevin “Bono” Manion needs a little pick-me-up during a race weekend or at the shop, he picks up his cell phone for a bit of perspective.
He goes to the messages on his cell phone and listens to one from his daughter, Avery.
Such a message serves as a reminder that there are other things in life in addition to his job as crew chief for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver Jamie McMurray.
“A child fixes everything,” Manion says. “A child’s smile. I always keep Avery’s messages when she calls me. You know, at 8 years old, you’ve got to have a cell phone.
"She calls and leaves messages. ... Kids are so amazing, some of the things that come out of their mouths is flabbergasting. That kind of makes everything go away.”
There are many fathers in the Sprint Cup garage, and many will forgo family time on Father’s Day Sunday in order to perform their jobs at Michigan International Speedway.
But Manion is one of the unique ones. Since his split from his wife four years ago, Manion’s daughter has lived full time with her father.
There have been times where he’s wondered whether he could handle being a full-time crew chief as well as a full-time dad.
But with his motor home driver and wife often helping take care of Avery at the track—as well as Motor Racing Outreach’s daycare program—Manion has managed to serve both his race team and his daughter, even on the many weeks when she comes to the track.
“That question comes up a lot (on being able to do both),” Manion said. “It just requires, like anything, (like the) preparation of a race car, preparation of a weekly schedule. Having good neighbors and a good support group and having a schedule and trying to keep it as normal as possible for Avery.
“When I’m in town, it’s full 24/7. … It’s a difficult balance but I enjoy being a father and I enjoy being a crew chief.”
Manion, who turns 40 later this month, has learned over the years how to get his work done at the track as well as take care of his parenting responsibilities.
“She goes to bed pretty early, still,” Manion said. “On the weekends, I try to teach her a little bit about racing. She’s into a lot of stuff that I do and there’s always something to do at the track.
“As a crew chief, you’re always thinking. In the middle of the night or at the playground when she’s running around with the other kids there, my mind is going a million miles an hour about the race tomorrow. You’re running the race through your head.”
Avery has not traveled with Manion as much this year as she has other activities on the weekends. She has been with him at the track often, though, in recent years.
Manion has tried to explain to her that some fathers have to travel for work and that, unlike military families, she still gets to see her father every week.
“Avery has been really good about it and it’s been a lot of fun, really,” Manion said. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve let her down. But sometimes I feel like it’s fun to have her come on the road. And I think it’s fun for her to have a weekend away.”
McMurray, who became a father in November 2010, said Manion keeps most of his emotions bottled up, so he rarely sees his crew chief fretting over how to handle both the car and a child on a race weekend.
"Bono has done a really good job with that," McMurray said. "I think he is a really good dad. ... He does a really good job handling stress, period.
“It’s easier for him than for others. He has a good perspective that if there’s nothing you can do about it, then don’t wear yourself out."
Manion said there are times when, like most parents, he feels a bit overwhelmed.
“Sometimes enough is enough,” he said. “Life is difficult. Your job is difficult. Being a dad is difficult.
“That’s what keeps you going, trying to make everything perfect in life. It just comes natural to be a crew chief and work hard. The same as a dad.”
Sometimes the job of doing both takes some clever negotiating.
Avery turned 9 last Sunday when Manion was in Pocono and she stayed back in North Carolina. So a birthday party didn’t happen on her birthday. Manion knew that she wouldn’t be happy about him missing her birthday.
“I finally got it across to her last year that you don’t have to celebrate your birthday on your birthday,” Manion said. “It’s nice too, but so what I’ve had to do is give her a birthday week.
“We have a range in that week that we do something every night and have a celebration on a particular night. … They get something every day for a week.”
Any other lessons Manion has learned along the way?
“Cupcakes at school also will take care of a lot of problems," he said.
When he does feel overwhelmed, he looks at a picture that hangs in his bedroom. It’s a photo McMurray gave him from victory lane after they won the 2010 Daytona 500.
“That’s one picture that hangs in my bedroom and every time I open my eyes I can see it,” Manion said of the photo in which he is holding his daughter. “Me, Jamie and Avery in victory lane and all three have ginormous smiles.”
Seeing that photo helps him get through even the tough days.
“During the week, when you’re at home, it’s non-stop,” Manion said.
"Finally when you put your head hits the pillow, it’s like, ‘That was a good day.’"