Cole Pearn, Furniture Row Racing crew chief, overcomes grief of losing best friend – The Denver Post
In the days leading up to NASCAR’s Aug. 6 race in Watkins Glen, N.Y., Cole Pearn was in a daze. Heartache and pain engulfed the Canada native, Golden resident and third-year crew chief for the No. 78 car of Denver-based Furniture Row Racing.
Still mourning the sudden death of his best friend, Pearn met his team in New York after trying to comfort friends and family in Strathroy, Ontario.
The trip to Strathroy, his hometown, was the first of three visits in August, a month that included tears and deep reflection.
In New York, three days after Jacob Damen died at age 35 of an aggressive bacterial infection, Pearn called the shots in driver Martin Truex Jr.’s victory at “The Glen.” Damen, a mechanical engineer who was planning on attending the ensuing race in Michigan as Pearn’s guest, was survived by his identical twin brother, Tyler Damen.
“That was just surreal. Two days of that weekend was a complete blur, and to win it was unbelievable,” Pearn, who is NASCAR’s first Canadian crew chief, said from FRR’s northeast Denver race shop. “I called Tyler right afterwards. I don’t know that either of us got any words together.”
Pearn, 34, was given the checkered flag, which he passed on to Damen’s two young sons at the Aug. 10 funeral in Strathroy, a community that follows NASCAR closely because of Pearn — the sport’s top young crew chief.
“It was a little bit of medicine, a bright spot that everybody needed at the time,” Pearn said of the No. 78’s series-high fourth victory of the season. “It was pretty special. They gave me the checkered flag — normally somebody else takes the checkered flag — and I gave it to Jacob’s boys. Something I can bring back to them.”
Pearn, who attended the University of Waterloo’s world-renowned engineering program with Jacob Damen, hopes to bring the Cup championship back to Strathroy in November. Truex is the series points leader who enters Sunday in position to clinch the regular-season championship. The veteran driver has high praise for the way his crew chief handled himself at Watkins Glen.
“He kept his composure, and was able to lead us to victory. It was definitely a special one for him,” Truex said in a phone interview from North Carolina. “For me, just seeing his mental toughness and getting through that week, and then dedicating the victory to his best best friend, was definitely an awesome feeling for me.”
Damen’s funeral was the Thursday before the Aug. 13 race in Michigan, allowing Pearn to pay his respects and then meet his team in Brooklyn, Mich. Truex had a significant lead with four laps to go but settled for a second-place finish after a wreck in the back of the field drew a red flag. He was passed by winner Kyle Larson in the overtime restart, winning a race Jacob Damen was scheduled to attend. But Pearn, still emotional from the funeral three days earlier, felt his friend’s presence on the last day of an exhausting week.
“We went and saw him before they closed the casket and that was tough. Really tough,” Pearn said of the days leading up to the Michigan race. “Seeing Tyler, seeing Jacob’s boys and his wife, Carolyn … You expect it to be bad, and then it was a million times worse than bad. They had almost 2,000 people through the funeral home during visitation, because he was a big, active member of the community and friendly to everybody.”
Following the Aug. 19 race in Bristol, Tenn. — where Truex qualified sixth but struggled on race day — Pearn and his wife and two young children carried through with plans to spend the circuit’s bye week in Ontario, a trip that included a visit to Jacob and Tyler’s cottage in Goderich.
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