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Voice of Vito: A Dying Man’s 5 Racing Wishes… If I Were Dying, That Is

With the 2008 NASCAR season winding down, we are in the middle of one of the more anti-climactic points races of the last decade, regardless of format. There is one outstanding title fight in the Truck Series, and another brewing in the Nationwide Series. Predictably, most of the media have avoided covering these two series with much more than a passing interest. Then again, most of the media has avoided covering some telling statements about a certain individual who will be running for an elected executive office next week, so why should this be any different?

As much as I would like to sit here and go over the possible scenarios of how Carl Edwards could beat Jimmie Johnson, or what Jimmie would have to do to empty the magazine into his foot and cost himself a title, I will avoid that and talk about something markedly different and refreshing:

Me. Because when you get right down to it, it’s all about me and what I want.

There are certain inevitabilities in life: Death, taxes, the Detroit Lions being the worst team ever in the history of organized sports. You might want to chalk up Johnson winning four consecutive titles at this point, because there isn’t a whole lot that group does wrong, and at last look, Chad Knaus and his driver aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. That being said, there are a few things I have on my racing bucket list that I’d like to see before I draw my knees up into my chest, take one last gasp and lay down for a dirt nap. These are purely selfish requests, and are in no way rooted in reality, objectivity or plausibility.

The return of Rockingham and North Wilkesboro to the schedule:

Will this ever happen? You have a better shot at seeing Steven Hawking challenging Robbie Knievel to a jump-off over the Grand Canyon. Though come to think of it, that would be pretty awesome, and technically it’s motorsports. But I digress.

The likelihood of it happening is between slim and none, but it sure would be great to see some of the old mainstays of NASCAR return. These were tracks that created some of the greatest racing moments I can remember. Dale Earnhardt wrecking with Ricky Rudd on the last lap at North Wilkesboro in 1989 – a finish that would ultimately cost him what would have been his fourth title. Two years later it was Earnhardt and Harry Gant going at it, denying Gant what would have been his record setting fifth consecutive win… at a mere 51 years young. Now it is over grown with weeds and crab grass.

Rockingham was another great old track that has since been slightly reanimated, having hosted an ARCA race this past spring as well as serving as an open test track for the Cup teams during the course of the year. Who can forget the stirring invocation given by Darrell Waltrip just one week after the tragic passing of Earnhardt for a race that was halted due to rain. Bright, sunny, and not a cloud in the sky on Monday, it was Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver Steve Park passing Bobby Labonte on the final lap – not unlike Earnhardt did to latter a year earlier at Atlanta. Park was as emotional as anyone else who was watching, hardly able to contain himself after the race while being interviewed. I still get a little teary eyed watching that clip seven years later.

Could Las Vegas or Chicago offer up that sort of drama or finish? Doubtful.

Racing stock cars as cars that are stock:

Let’s face it; the American auto business is in the toilet. All parties are guilty, though a tip of the cap goes to the UAW for doing everything humanly possibly to cripple the industry that employs them. Hey, I’m from Michigan – I know of which I speak. Since they are blowing through that $25 billion in government loans like MC Hammer on cars, houses and horse, why not have a series for cars that really are… stock cars?

Gut them, weld in a roll cage, throw on some headers and slicks, and have at it. Hey, they used to have a class for convertibles once, right? Sure, that may have been back in the days of leather helmets and the flagman standing ON the racetrack, but whatever, they used to have cars that were essentially “stock” cars as well. Let’s put some teeth back into Henry Ford’s “Win on Sunday/Sell on Monday” mantra we have heard so much about over the years. After all, his company needs it probably more than anyone else’s.

Since this is my wish list, I will make this the rule of the Nationwide Series. They already are using my idea of going to the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger, so do it with the cars that are V8, rear-wheel drive and available with a manual transmission from the factory. With a 400-horsepower V8 available in the Mustang for 2010, they’ll all be at similar power/weight ratios. Get those crowbars and torches out and have at it.

Mark Martin wins a Sprint Cup championship:

Many of the staff here are probably rolling their eyes about now. As a journalist you’re expected to be unbiased. That’s fine, but I’m also a shameless, unapologetic shill for the Batesville, Ark., native.

I’ll be honest, if not for him, I probably would never have followed racing as closely as I did in my formative years, and you would not be reading this (so if you think this sucks, don’t take it out on him). That being said, is there any guy who has gotten rooked out of a championship more times than the little guy? He actually would have won the title in 1990, had NASCAR not fined him 46 points for a spacer plate that was bolted – rather than welded – to his intake manifold at Richmond. This was the same manifold that went through inspection three times race weekend and was touched by a NASCAR inspector. He lost the title by 20 points that season, and would go on to finish second on three more occasions.

He was in position to win the title in 1997 in the closing laps at Atlanta, when leading and pulling away when his Valvoline Thunderbird burned a piston in the closing laps, and he slid back to third just as Jeff Gordon was limping around as the last car three laps down.

The 2007 Daytona 500 was just more salt in the wound for what would have made a nice consolation prize for his not wining a championship. He was denied when NASCAR, for the first time since 2003, decided to let cars race back to the finish line amid chaos, mayhem and utter destruction, with the track blocked and cars upside down, flipping and on fire.

No matter, Martin returns full-time for 2009 to once again walk into the hailstorm of doom, gloom and disappointment, in search of the prize that has eluded him for as long as I have been alive.

Kurt and Kyle Busch get into a fight with Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart:

This will be awesome. I want an uncensored interview with each of them afterwards. It should probably be at Bristol too, so then they all will be extra irritated. Kurt will unload with a rash of analogies and eloquent expletives, Kyle will offer a deadpanned comment about Delana Harvick’s firesuit, leading Kevin to shove Tony and remind him about the Brickyard in 2007. Smoke will then insult the reporter who comes up to him to ask him a question while crushing a $5 Footlong in his Subway firesuit. Then Jimmy Spencer comes out of nowhere smoking a cigar and pops Kurt Busch in the nose again, just for posterity.

Just for the record, I like all of these guys.

The MRN crew calls the race on television:

You want to know why NASCAR ratings have suffered and interest is lacking as of late? I’m here to give you bibles full of truth: the coverage is nothing short of abysmal. If you have a chance to catch a classic race broadcast from CBS or ESPN during the 1980s or early ’90s, you will notice a marked difference: it is actually not painful to watch!

Ken Squier was the master of building excitement and narrating a 500-mile race, even if things got spread out a bit. Watching on television today is nothing short of painful. The action on the track is secondary to the conversation that is taking place in the booth or what selected driver is profiled for over three hours. Listen to a race on your radio by tuning into MRN. Barney Hall and Joe Moore, along with the rest of the crew, paint an entirely different portrait compared to what beige Etch-A-Sketch drawing is offered on television, between promos for prime-time TV shows or upcoming football games.

These are just a few things that came across my mind the other day. I’m sure you have your own opinion of what you would like to see if you had one last racing wish. Feel free to add yours to this list – we always appreciate and welcome reader interaction and look forward to reading your comments and replies.

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