When I started this writing gig a few years back, I made it clear to all who took the time to read that I consider myself a fan first and a journalist second. I was just an average schmuck sitting in a tavern, watching the races and arguing with my buddies over who started the most recent crash and, more importantly, who was going to pay the tab. A lot of readers seemed to identify with that image, and while my “I agree with Jeff” t-shirts never did quite sell out, the popularity of this column seems to have grown.
It has grown to the point that, in recent years, my editors have insisted that I come across more as journalist and not the beverage swilling, NASCAR redneck that I used to be. Since they are “editors,” I usually try to allow them their delusional fantasies and let them believe that they have, in fact, reformed me.
I say “NASCAR redneck I used to be” because when I started this gig, I “had it bad.” Do you remember when you “had it bad?” When you couldn’t bear the thought of missing a Sunday broadcast? When you secretly, until recent years, were upset with your mom because it was Mother’s Day and there was no race that weekend? Those were the days!
However, for the last couple of years, I, like so many others that have taken the time to comment on the fine articles here at Frontstretch, have lost a certain zeal for the sport we so dearly loved. We became the “casual fan” that Brian France so dearly coveted. Granted, we weren’t the casual fan Brian had in mind… but that is what we had become.
To be brutally honest – something that I am apt to do after a few beverages – I was actually dreading the start of the racing season this year. Once again, I would be facing weekly deadlines, screaming editors and all the apathy that comes with such things. Now, however, I find myself in a state of excitement that I can honestly say I haven’t felt for quite some time.
Why the sudden change? I watched the Bud Shootout.
I didn’t watch it because I had great expectations going in; I watched it more out of obligation because I figured that I might have to write something about it which, of course, I do! Imagine my surprise!
As I watched the Shootout, I found myself in a quandary. I really wanted Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win because A.) I wanted him to show what he can do in primo equipment and, B.) I really am not too fond of Jimmie Johnson. On the other hand, I found myself cheering for Tony Stewart, because I really want to see the Toyotas do well this year.
There are a couple of reasons why I am not on the “I hate Toyota” bandwagon like so many other newly formed “casual fans.” First and foremost is because I am a Dale Jarrett fan. The second is that, other than a nose, an engine, and a decal – as Robby Gordon so recently has proved – there is no difference between the ‘spec’ cars that are now raced in the top series. Why a hate a manufacturer when you can’t tell the difference between them?
To my delight, not only did Junior and the Toyotas do well, but in my opinion, the racing was almost spectacular. There was no single-car “parade” as is often the case at Daytona. In fact, as much as it might pain me to say so, the new “car,” as NASCAR’s CEO so eloquently called it, seemed to race extremely well. So well, in fact, I recently surprised myself by actually saying that Kurt Busch did an awesome job of driving while being spun late in the race. I hope that these characteristics of the new “car” carry on throughout the year.
When you add it all up, I find that I have a new enthusiasm for the upcoming season. Couple that with what can only be construed as the closest thing we new “casual fans” will ever get to an apology for being shunned by France in the past – his remarks about getting back to basics last month – and 2008 may just be the year we all start to “catch it” again.
Make no mistake about it though, while you may see a newly optimistic approach in this column throughout the year, I will NEVER give up pointing out the ineptness of the “Big BF” as I so fondly like to call him. There are some things that even I can’t fake!
Stay off the wall, and enjoy the season!