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Are you ready?
Normally at this time of the year, I’m hovering at the TV set in total anticipation of the pre-race countdown. I hunger for glimpses of new paint jobs, the familiar ring of the announcers’ voices, and the reassuring flutter of a green flag in the February afternoon.
But this year is different. While the offseason plodded by to the tune of Christmas carols and depressed shoppers, our nation’s economy bit the big one. Big banks ate little ones, Detroit’s Big Three turned into the Three Blind Mice… and companies stopped spending altogether.
As the money dried up, it even seemed that NASCAR couldn’t help but join in the general sense of loss and desperation. Team after team disappeared, merged, reformed, and finalized their intentions for the upcoming season… leaving this fan befuddled and not a little uncertain.
I know who will be driving the usual top-10 cars – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and even Mark Martin are all set up in rides that I will be able to identify. But what of those second-tier teams? Poof! In a cloud of smoke, they have been divested of familiar paint schemes, owner’s names and crew chiefs to be lost in the morass of the American Recession.
Not only that, I was given no opportunity to test my toes in the waters of the upcoming season through the usual January testing at Daytona.
I am… uncertain.
However, optimism is my friend, and it is times like these that I remind myself of one of the reasons that I follow the trials and tribulations of NASCAR: I’m a fan of fast machines. I know that even if the familiar faces of the Cup Series vanished and were replaced by an entirely new cast, I would still tune in for the drop of the green flag.
So on February 15th, there will still be an afternoon full of excitement no matter who’s driving which car. 43 cars will attack the high banks. They will bump and bang three-wide, change tires in 13 seconds – you might even find one taking a spin coming out of turn 2. Engines will roar, and the car on the pole will likely drop to the back – power to the front – and hover in mid-pack as restrictor-plate magic keeps him honest. We as fans will complain about penalties, remember better days, and smile when the one we cheer for makes the move.
And most importantly, for those few short hours, I will be in a place where my co-workers aren’t facing layoffs, my mortgage isn’t being bought by yet another bank and my property taxes aren’t rising faster than sin.
When all is said and done, NASCAR is my escape. Imperfect, occasionally boring, often irritating – but mostly the sport that makes my weekends a better place.
Gentlemen, start your engines.