I am well aware that this is not a Racing Magazine or a Fan Blog. However I would be remiss if I did not shoehorn a few words into this small space I am allotted following the 11 days that preceded the 55th running of The Daytona 500.
Speedweeks, as it is called, was the most action-packed and exciting since (dare I say) 1979. Filled with surprise, suspense, near tragedy and history-making feats, I am now convinced that NASCAR is the motor racing division to watch in 2013. The staunchest F1 or ALMS supporter will have to consider my argument.
The Gen-6 Car has arrived. This 6th iteration of stock car has leveled the playing field. Past versions of this car afforded a few drivers mastery of its nuances. Not anymore. Driving the car is a challenge for everybody and the winner may be determined by strategy instead of statistics. “The Car of Tomorrow” is now yesterday’s news, but it brought safety innovations that will be used for the next 6 generations and implemented across motor sports as a whole. The Gen-6 has combined the exhaustive safety developments with styling identity to rekindle brand loyalty and let’s not forget….good racing!
In a world where the past is written off as irrelevant, you have to give it to NASCAR for keeping the history of the sport alive. The NASCAR Hall of Fame makes sure it’s heroes have a permanent place to be celebrated. They also never let their pioneers fall out of sight. Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough and David Pearson can be seen at any number of major events. Heck! They even refer to Richard Petty as “The King”. There’s a great respect for history and Patriotism. After all, it is still the great American race.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Kyle Larson are an unlikely duo but are very important to the sport. Mr. Earnhardt’s untimely death (hats removed) sparked a blitzkrieg of driver safety developments. The driver moved over toward the center, the safer barrier, the HANS Device and the list goes on. All of which, by the way can be seen being used at an Indycar or Grand-Am event near you. The accident that severed Kyle Larson’s car and sent parts careening into the stands during the Nationwide race at Daytona will trigger an onslaught of safety enhancements for the spectator as well. While we are talking about the spectators, it is always evident that NASCAR cares about them. Fans can vote for the particulars of a race like The Duel and fans can have access to the garage areas during any race weekend. Not only does the governing body hear the fans, but in many cases, they comply with their wishes. Notice how many times I said “fans”? That’s how many times Mike Helton says it too. Ticket holders and armchair Crew Chiefs are a focal point in this industry and the governing body knows it.
Another reason to keep an eye on the sport: Danica! Yes, she is there and her celebrity will keep the fans coming. Some want to stop the Danica-ism of NASCAR, others want more of her. Whatever side of the fence you’re on, you’re talking about her and that’s what Brian France wants. Listen, talk, then come and see. NASCAR always provides an attraction. Whether it’s a Jaun Pablo Montoya coming from Formula 1 or a Trevor Bane coming from out of nowhere to win the inaugural race, there is always something interesting to entice you or some phenom being born.
Finally, this is one of the last places you can take your kids. It’s this or Disneyland and Mickey ain’t comin’ to your region any time soon. NASCAR picks up its traveling circus and moves across the country for 40 weeks, bringing with it crashes, close finishes, race records, celebrities and traffic. It takes 36 races to make a champion but only one to make a memory. Should you take me up on my offer and stick around for a few races, listen past the southern accent of Larry McReynolds or the banter between Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace (and yes, get past the fact that there are names like Rusty, Fireball, Smoke, Junior and Booty), and you will see that this is a sport that is trying to rectify it’s checkered past and glorify the checkered flag.