That was when Funell got the surprise of his life, when NASCAR race driver Ryan Newman walked up and told him that he had scored two of the toughest race tickets in all of motorsports.
Funell, a longtime racer from Rapid City, will attend the Aug. 25 Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, as a guest of Alltel Wireless.
Newman’s Roger Penske-owned and Alltel-sponsored No 12 Dodge Charger wall also carry Funell’s name during the race, to be televised live on ESPN.
“It was a total, blowed-me-away surprise,”said Funell, who had just come to check out a full-size replica of Newman’s car on display at the store.
“It was just neat to meet Ryan Newman, and then they started talking about this Bristol deal,” Funell, said. “It’s just starting to sink in.
“You know there’s a lot of people who’ll try to flim-flam you, but this is real,” he said.
Funell actually had a relative to thank for getting him to the race car display in the first place.
“My Aunt Hazel had read the paper and said ‘get up there, because there’s going to be a race car there and you’re probably interested,” said Funell, “Anything to do racing and race cars, I’m going to be there.”
“I’ll take her to the race with me, if I can talk her into it,” he said.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Newman, after meeting with Funell. “It’s a lot of fun to make somebody’s day and see people in a place where I’ve never been before.”
That’s the idea of the promotion, said Nicole Anastasi, Newman’s race team publicist from Charlotte, N.C.
Newman’s appearance is kept secret except for local store officials and select members of the news media.
“We want to do this in areas that aren’t that really that close to a NASCAR race, where fans will really appreciate it,” Anastasi said. “We like to pick someone who is obviously a race fan and, most importantly, knows who Ryan Newman is.”
Newman made the quick flight to Rapid City from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the NASCAR races this weekend in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard 400.
“We’re a long ways from where NASCAR touches, so it’s good to see the NASCAR fans come out,” he said.
Funell and Newman had a few minutes to trade some car-guy talk, as well as other interests.
“He’s a hot rodder and race car guy, and I guess he’s fished a time or two, so we’ve got a lot of things in common,” Newman said of Funell.
“You know, he’s just a real personable guy,” Funell said “It was awesome meeting him, because he’s tremendously fast.”
And like any true racer, Funell was quick to thank his sponsor.
“I’m just grateful to Alltel for bringing this deal to town,” he said.