While attending an IndyCar race at Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania, Karen Juday sat down next to a New Yorker named Richard Pecorella. Karen was there to cheer on her brother, a mechanic with Team Penske. She would often drive from her hometown of Elkhart, Ind., to support her brother’s team as they travelled around the country. Rich had received tickets from a friend, and this was his first auto race as a spectator.
As the two casual seatmates began chatting about the ins and outs of IndyCar, they started to realize how much they had in common. For instance, each had raised two children and was in the middle of difficult marital separations. A subsequent dinner invitation and a gas station bouquet marked the beginnings of a love story. In a 2005 StoryCorps interview, Rich remembered, “I knew as soon as I looked at her that she was the one.”
Within a few months, Karen moved to Brooklyn to be with Rich. She took to New York City immediately, exploring the shops and bakeries in their neighborhood and marveling at the beauty of the nearby Verrazano Bridge. She found a job as an administrative assistant at Cantor Fitzgerald, in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. During the workweek, Karen and Rich would commute together, he to Downtown Brooklyn and she to lower Manhattan. Outside of their jobs, the two relaxed by attending baseball games, going out to dinner or taking impromptu weekend trips. They made plans to marry in Las Vegas in June 2002.
After 9/11, Rich honored his fiancée’s memory by sharing photos and precious items with the 9/11 Memorial Museum. He also recorded a detailed remembrance about their life together. Rich passed away in February 2016.
Karen’s red Team Penske racing jacket is now on view in the Museum’s In Memoriam gallery. The objects currently on view reflect victims’ unique connections to sports and are on display in conjunction with the Museum’s new special exhibition “Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11.” The special exhibition recalls how sports brought people together in the aftermath of the attacks and offered comfort and hope to a grieving nation. The gallery features a piece of auto racing history, the hood of Ken Schrader’s American flag paint scheme stock car, which he drove at the first NASCAR race after 9/11.
By Kirsten Madsen, Memorial Exhibition Assistant Manager, 9/11 Memorial & Museum