Amy Henderson · Thursday June 2, 2005
If you watched Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, regardless of what you came away with, you witnessed history. It seems I’ve gotten a lot of column ideas from my students, and they really got me thinking this time. In a discussion in social studies class, we talked about history and what makes it so. Someone commented that history class is “boring” because “all that stuff happened a long time ago.”
Ahh, but therein lies your mistake, Junior. History happens, on some level, every day. Today’s news is tomorrow’s “boring” history textbook. It’s not something you expect.
I’m sure most fans never expected the five-hour marathon that set the all-time record for caution flags in a single race, anywhere. But it unfolded before our eyes nonetheless.
It started out like any other race day. If the Busch race on Saturday was an indication, we were certainly in for a lot of incidents, but I’m quite certain even the most pessimistic fan wouldn’t have guessed that the yellow flag would wave twenty-two times. That had never happened before, even at Bristol. No green-flag run reached 50 laps. While I usually find such subjects silly, on my second trip to the bathroom during the very long course of the race, I felt sorry for the drivers.
But whether you think the spins and crashes were exciting, or were lulled into a coma-like state by the flashing lights of the pace car, you saw an event that had never, in the history of NASCAR, happened before. The caution laps were not the only record-setting performance of the night. Before 2005, no driver had ever won NASCAR’s longest race more than twice in a row. Now that’s no longer the case. Like him or villainize him, Jimmie Johnson is now the only driver, ever, to take the checkers for the 600 three years in a row.
One of the TV guys put that into this perspective: that’s 1800 miles with no catastrophic bad luck, no mistakes from the pit crew, no misfire in the engine, no driver error. No matter if you were cheering for Johnson or shouting for Bobby Labonte to eke out the win, you saw something no race audience could claim to have seen before. Who knows if, or when, it may happen again?
That is what makes the history of NASCAR so tantalizing. You never know if you are going to watch “just another race” or witness something never accomplished before. Some events are monumental, changing the face of the sport as we know it. I’d guess that an awful lot of people could tell you exactly what they were doing during the last laps at Daytona four springs ago. Four years form now, it’s likely the memories of the Coca-Cola 600 will be much more faded, or perhaps even eclipsed (it’s easy to say now “Nobody could win that ting FOUR times in a row!”) but the race will be forever written in the record books, although the results may be the only written legacy. The great thing about racing (and life) is that you never know when you will witness an event and realize, that’s history!
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