Every once in a while, something happens that puts things in perspective. Something that reminds you why you’re here in the first place. It’s not necessarily a big event – it can be something as small as a child’s thank you or the smell of spring and fresh cut grass. But it’s a reminder of what is important, and right, and good.
It was that kind of week.
A couple of things happened to put my racing life into perspective.
First was a trip to Richmond International Raceway for last weekend’s Nationwide and Cup races. I wasn’t there to work. I wasn’t there to write or to hunt down PR people. I was simply there as a race fan. And for the first time in a long time for me, it was fun. Every time I’m at the track, I long to really be on the inside, making racing a career, and the fact that that doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon usually rankles so badly that it’s not fun. Watching people live your dream without so much as a second though is painful.
But this weekend was different. Sure, I was a fan with benefits in the form of hot passes from Nationwide Series driver and personal friend Kenny Wallace, a fan who got to watch much of Friday from on top of the No. 28 hauler and walk through the garage unhindered, but I was a fan in that there were no expectations beyond having a good time.
The weekend was a “girls’ weekend,” a mini-road trip of sorts, that I took with my friend Pam. We made the drive from Charlotte to Richmond, and it is true that getting there is half the fun. But it was Pam and a few other fans who really reminded me what it’s all about. Why? Because they just took it all in and enjoyed the show. Somewhere along the line, I tend to forget to do that, because I’m working too hard, wanting too much. Taking too much for granted. Watching my friend take in her first time in the hot garage reminded me of how I felt the first time – and still do when all is said and done.
It’s easy to get both spoiled and jaded in racing and racing journalism. It’s frustrating to see so clearly what has gone wrong with NASCAR and seeing just as clearly that the sanctioning body simply does not care about fixing any of it. It’s easy to take access for granted. It’s hard to enjoy a race when you are looking for the next story, or, in the case of watching on television, when you are looking for information on a driver or team that never comes. It’s not an overnight thing, it more kind of sneaks up, but that jaded feeling is uncomfortable and hard to shake, no matter how badly you want to. It’s easy to think about why you don’t love racing anymore.
But the weekend at Richmond reminded me why I love racing. I’d never been to the .75-mile track before, and it’s easy to see why fans love it. Both races were exciting and well, just plain fun to watch. We watched from the pits on Friday, and while it’s not the best place to watch a race because you miss too much, it’s a great feeling to be with a team when they are running as well as the No. 28 ran on Friday until a late-race part failure. Being with the team humanizes the whole thing. You can see the passion in everything the crewmen do, and it’s just an amazing feeling – almost electric in intensity.
On Saturday, we sat in the cheap seats on the backstretch and enjoyed racing and people watching and all manner of things. Before the race, we watched Speed’s Raceday live. We wandered among the souvenir haulers, marveling at what fans will actually buy. We ate some typical racetrack fare, though we avoided something called a “Krispy Kreme Burger,” which, incidentally, is exactly what it sounds like – a burger on a donut. I didn’t renew my subscription to NASCAR Scene, which means I really need to do that at the All-Star Race if I can sneak away from the media center for a bit. But mostly, we just watched one awesome race. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?
On another note, the tragic death of former Nationwide driver Kevin Grubb put racing into a totally different place this week. For Grubb, it seemed as though racing at that level was almost too much – it both fed and fueled Grubb’s drug problem, and then, in a misguided attempt to solve it, turned away from him after turning him away. Fast cars and fast money were for Grubb a destructive thrill that led to a more destructive habit by far. The real tragedy might be that the reports I have seen on Grubb’s death (the same reports that the family who loved him have also surely seen) focused more on his drug-related suspensions than on what he achieved in his short, painful life.
And all I can think is that he looked so young.
He was young, just 31 when he reportedly took his own life. It seems a preventable tragedy, though it’s hard to say what demons haunted Grubb to the point where the only way to escape them was to end his life. I can’t help but wonder if someone in the racing community had reached out, offered help and friendship and guidance, if the end could have been rewritten. Sadly, we’ll never know. Rest well, Kevin, I hope that you are forever free now.
I think that a little perspective is a great thing. It makes me want to be a better writer and a better person. Racing gives and it takes. One week gave me so much, but took something irreplaceable. It’s been a humbling week. It has renewed my love of racing and its inherent simplicity, but it has also reminded me that racing is really not as important as I sometimes think it is.