Well, that was fun. No, really! You have to admit that even with new rules changes, new teams, new double line, NASCAR applying different rules to different drivers and a rain-shortened event, you liked it. You can’t help it! You’re a NASCAR fan, and if there’s one thing that really drives this fact home every year, it’s the annual running of the Daytona 500.
Somehow, in all its overindulgent glory, this event manages to embrace every ugly, beautiful facet of our sport and puts it out there just so we can jump up and down, arguing with our loved ones about the stupidest things. Things, by and large, that have become traditions in our sport. Now, I didn’t say all traditions are good. Only that they exist to give us a sense of continuity in our stress-ridden lives.
Shall we start with perhaps the most contested and newest addition to the “tradition” of Daytona? “Digger.” A lot of us hate him. Some of us love him. Many of us can’t give him the time of day. But, really, somehow a broadcast will never be the same without this pointless addition to our raceday.
“Boogity-boogity-boogity” You know it! You wait for it! Admit it! You might even join in and back DW up.
And speaking of the garrulous commentator, what would Speedweeks be without the endless replaying of DW’s dance in victory lane? It’s not everybody that can look so uncoordinated and still bully a stock car around a track for 500 miles. We also cannot overlook the legendary finish to the 1979 Daytona 500. What would our week of racing be without another viewing of the best fistfight ever to break out at a race?
There’s the welcome interviews with Ken Squier, his voice weaving through so many racing memories over the decades. Cameras capture the fluttering of the American flag flying in turn 3, the palm trees and the fishing boats in Lake Lloyd.
We’ve seen every bit of it before. The teams lined up on pit road, listening to the benediction and Star-Spangled Banner. Cars painted every shade of the rainbow, their engines cramming the air with their roar. The army of fans waving their chosen colors, participating in one of the oldest traditions of all, cheering.
Even in our living rooms, we come together, just as we did last year. In my case, there was the baking of the car-shaped cakes, a supply of Wheat Thins and the rewiring of the satellite TV so we can catch multiple channels at the same time. Family and friends politely ask what I think might happen (they know better than to really go head-to-head on the subject). The cats hide upstairs to avoid the yelling and stomping feet.
And just like at the track, we decorate. Maybe there’s a flag on your front porch, or a favorite picture hung in the den or just a snapshot pinned to the fridge door… but it’s there. That small piece of something that gives your heart a jolt each time you remember the moment when you became… a fan.
We got it all this past week, just as we do every year. New paint jobs, new teammates, three-wide, below the line, sucking-up, scraping the wall, cutting a tire, rubbin’, bumpin’ and most of all… excitement.
Oh, we don’t have to like who won. We don’t need to approve of the person or persons who caused the Big One. We are not even required to memorize the names, numbers and affiliations of all the cars on the track.
Because, this was the start of something new. As it has been since 1982.
The Daytona 500 rang the bell for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. And there just ain’t no better tradition in the world.