The Frontstretch: Short-track racing can teach kids lessons of life like Aesop and Big Bird never could by Cheryl Walker -- Monday April 11, 2005

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NASCAR fans have been treated to two weekends of short-track racing in a row. I am sure the fans will need these next few days until we get to Texas to come down from all of the beating, banging, and high-octane excitement that our drivers have brought us from Bristol and Martinsville.

I am just as certain that the drivers are using this time to recuperate from all of the action as well. If the fans are worn out, just think about how those drivers and teams feel. I can imagine a race-worn Bobby Labonte shuffling through his kitchen in his bathrobe with a scruffy face reminiscent of his famous teammate’s, hunting down whatever comfort food or beverage that restores his particular soul. And Kevin Harvick’s wife, DeLana, just generally staying out of her husband’s way for a while. I am thinking that Carl Edward’s family is clucking their tongues about the way the No. 99 car can spin, and how Lady Luck seemed to have stopped paying such close attention (at least for the moment).

Lots of emotions represented there. For Labonte, there was the ultimate driver high of jumping out of the winning vehicle and hoisting that trophy, then washing the Coca-Cola out of his hair later. The very best feelings racing can offer. That was on Saturday, of course. On Sunday, the driver of the No. 18 Chevy then got to experience some of the worst: seeing a triumph fading away like a beautiful Virginia sunset.

If a writer of children’s literature wanted to, the pathos and glory of the world of NASCAR racing could provide the basis for a great book on managing emotions in a responsible way, and the handling of the one life’s lesson that this writer still has trouble with: that sometimes life just isn’t fair.

Just think of Jeff Gordon at Sunday’s Cup race. He was ‘The Little Engine That Could’, except instead of a little train facing a big hill, he was a driver three laps down, that kept charging ahead and charging ahead until he was rewarded with a flapping checkered flag. That teaches patience, fortitude, bravery, and belief in one’s self in an exciting and easily understood way.

Another worthy lesson could be learned by showing a clip of Bobby Hamilton, Jr. gracefully accepting the blame for a wreck last weekend at Bristol, instead of shifting the blame elsewhere or letting rage do the talking. If I were teaching a children’s workshop on feelings, I would ask the class, “Do you think that was easy for him to say? How do you think he was feeling at that point?” Good therapeutic stuff, there.

As exciting, attention-grabbing resources for folks teaching kids about managing their emotions, I can’t think of anything much better than replays of some short-track races. (And there’s quite a few of us adults around that could probably brush up on a few things, too.)

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Cheryl is no longer a contributor to the Frotnstretch, having branched out on her own, starting CawsnJaws with her son Josh. If you'd like to see more of Cheryl's Frontstretch articles, check out her bio and archive page.