Amy Henderson · Thursday March 10, 2005
I have a new TV show to watch. Not being much of a television fan, this doesn’t happen very often, but I actually found a couple of shows now that I like to watch each week. No, not Inside Nextel Cup or NASCAR Nation. I have discovered an affinity for those crime-solving shows. You know, like CSI and the like. Most of them don’t really relate to racing all that well. While I’m not sure I’ll ever completely and to my satisfaction solve the mystery of how Kurt Busch stole the Nextel Cup, I am fairly certain that they won’t be cracking that one on an episode of Cold Case.
But this other crime-solving show, I can relate to racing. It’s called Numbers, and a part of the successful crime solving team is a mathematician. He uses the data he collects in complex equations to solve just about anything. Now, I’m not going to be solving any big equations here, because frankly, I topped out on math in about tenth grade, but it did make me think about what numbers could teach us about racing over the years. Not old tired numbers, like lap times, tire prices, or the exponentially increasing number of drivers who are younger than me, but perhaps some of the zillions of other facts that someone has broken into numerical components over the years. What stories could these numbers tell us? As Charlie, the crime-solving math professor says, “everything’s numbers,” but what about numbers draws us in?
There are of course, car numbers. Race fans have, for decades, referred to a car/driver/team combination by a simple number. For example, the 2 looks awfully racy today, but the 18 looks like it’s tied to a stump, the 97 lost an engine on lap 16 and the 16 crashed on lap 97. The 48 is on a rail but the 9 just ran into one. This is a time-honored tradition, but nothing really jumps out from those numbers. Unless Rip Van Winkle suddenly woke up and discovered that the numbers were all different now, that could be kinda fun. But well, that’s not going to happen.
Then there are statistics. I said that this column isn’t about just stats, and it isn’t and will not be. But, some stats are not you run-of-the-mill qualifying records, race wins, or championship points. There are stories behind every number, I become more sure of that each time I see a statistic I’ve never heard before. The numbers alone draw me in, make me want for more.
For instance, through the 2003 season, there was at least one female driver in 211 NASCAR Busch Series races. That accounts for 32% of the races run between 1982 and 2003. Who were they? What did they accomplish? If I look a little deeper, I can see that the first was Diane Teal, back in 1982 at Martinsville. Where did she finish? Who did she race for? I can look up every one of these rivers in my media guide, and find more numbers. Best starts, best finishes. Still more stories as yet untold.
What about that magical number, one? As in first? Not first as in who won what when, but there’s a first time for everything, right? In 2000, there were two similar firsts, because when Jeff Green won the Busch Series championship and Bobby Labonte the Winston Cup, both completed the first sets of brothers to have won the honors. Green joined brother David as Busch champ, and Labonte joined big brother Terry, a two-time Cup champ. What I want to know now is, what did these guys do before they became champions? Did David and Mark Green gang up on Jeff? Did Terry make Bobby do all the worst chores, like taking out the garbage or walking the dog at the crack of dawn. And how interesting that it happened in both series in the same year. Hmmm…
So now, I’m rethinking my position on numbers. Numbers will rarely, if ever, tell the whole story. But, what numbers CAN do is make you long to hear the rest of the story. A starting point, kind of like that one potato chip you think you can eat before half the bag “mysteriously” disappears. Start with a number, finish, in the end with a story. I like that. Maybe everything IS numbers. Or maybe I just watch too much TV. But hey, that’s history.
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