The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: The Road Not Taken by Amy Henderson -- Thursday July 21, 2005

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I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason.  One event, or series of events can be the end of one road and the beginning of another, all at once.  Take the story of an aspiring young driver, who, several years ago followed a dream down one avenue and ended up on the journey of a lifetime down another road altogether.
 
It starts in Indianapolis, Indiana during the month of May thirty years or so ago now.  May in Indianapolis means the Indianapolis 500, the race whose Borg-Warner Trophy is the holy grail of open-wheel racers everywhere.  In the garages that May was a young, fresh-faced driver with a lightning fast car.  Fast enough to turn heads all over the garage area.  Fast despite the lack of a major sponsor or a household name behind the wheel.
 
The kid in the fast car was good.  Certainly good enough to attract the attention of car owners and drivers from all corners of Gasoline Alley.  But unfortunately for the kid, the fast car met an untimely end in a practice crash.  For many competitors at Indy, this would have not been an insurmountable obstacle.  Sponsor dollars could certainly pay for repairs or if repairs could not be made, another fast car.
 
But for the kid, the loss of his car meant the loss of his chance - unless he could find someone who would take a chance on a young man with a helmet in his hand and the ability to make a car go like the wind itself.  Many car owners in the garage jumped at the chance to talk about a deal with the kid for the big race - after all, they had seen what he could do with a racecar.  But then came the inevitable question: “What can you bring us, son?” 
 
The kid’s answer was all he could give - a talented young driver and his racing helmet.  No, said the owners, we mean sponsors; what can you bring us?  And when the kid answered that he could not bring them a sponsor’s money, only speed, they turned away, one by one.  Talent and desire were not enough compared to the bankroll a sponsor could guarantee.
 
So the kid went home to Missouri to weigh his options.  He knew that racing was in his blood, and racing he would go.  Instead of the path he had once started down, the kid with the fast car chose a different fork in the road - a fork that led to stock cars, to ASA and NASCAR, and to four Nextel Cup victories and eight speeches onstage at the Waldorf-Astoria as a top-ten finisher in the points championship.  The kid has slowed down some in recent years, although the cars are still fast.  Still, racing is in Ken Schrader’s blood, and maybe everything does happen for a reason.
 
I can’t recall where I first heard this story, and my apologies for that, as well as for any details that may have escaped my mind in the retelling.  NASCAR’s history, like the early history of our nation and our world, is largely an oral tradition, and a good storyteller is worth his or her weight in gold.  For every success in racing, there has been a failure, and for every failure, someone else’s success.  That’s one of the remarkable things about the sport, one of the reasons why that’s history.

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©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Bruce Henderson
07/23/2005 06:34 AM
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Nice article. It is all in the history.

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.