Mark Martin is sitting on the top of the points going into the Chase… no shit. Two years ago, I don’t think a single fan believed that this could be possible. Apparently, Martin didn’t believe, either. In fact, sitting next to his No. 5 Carquest Chevy on pit road after the conclusion of the Chevy Rock ‘N’ Roll 400, he said as much. “[I didn’t believe it] until the checkered flag dropped.”
That sounds pretty pessimistic. However, when you’ve been the bridesmaid as many times as Mark, it’s entirely understandable. If you’ve been a Red Sox fan for most of your life, the empathy increases. Waiting 86 years for your team to win a World Series takes a certain level of dedication not always found among sports fans. For Martin fans, this season just might be their World Series. From one perennial underdog fan to another, I truly hope so.
What is it that reignites that spark of hope each year? The one that encourages us to don the hat, sit up and yell, and groan in disappointment when our hero is not victorious, yet again.
We all have reasons why we cheer for our particular driver in NASCAR. Those reasons vary with the shades of the rainbow. Maybe he is highly competitive, refuses to lose, or manages a humble interview in the most stressful moment. A sterling sense of humor, a display of family affection or the ability to win race after race might be the thing that clinches your devotion. Perhaps, your guy throws a really nice left hook. Most of the time, it’s a combination of a bunch of things.
My hero? I can’t give you the moment that Jeff Gordon became “my driver”. But it wasn’t sudden. It was long ago. Somewhere during his second or third season, a combination of victory lane celebrations, solid on-track tricks and a pleasing media presence locked in my support. I stopped being a mere “racing nut” and launched into full-fledged NASCAR mania. Perhaps his winning record really had something to do with it… soothing my worn ability to cheer for the never winning Red Sox. But, having been raised in the epitome of loyal fandom, my support has been unwavering in good years and bad. I have no doubt, your devotion is just as true…for whomever you have knighted as your favorite.
In that support is embedded hope. Always hope. It is what brings us to the track. Even when your driver’s team tends to inhabit the 35th place, there is always the possibility that this might be his week to shine. Anybody who has watched NASCAR for more than a single year, understands that anything can happen, at any time. Thus, our hope lives on.
Hope lives for last-lap passes, gas-mileage snafus, rain delays, missing lugnuts and races run to perfection. It lives for a comeback season with a new team. It lives on for a driver once retired, but now embraces the Fountain of Youth.
Mr. Martin, maybe you didn’t believe that this season could ever come true. That’s alright. Your fans did.
And we’re not there, yet! Perhaps the checkered flag dropped on the Race to the Chase. But there are 10 races left.
10 races for hope. 10 races to believe. 10 races to win.
Should Mark Martin raise the Cup over his head in Homestead, there will be a celebration in NASCAR Nation the likes of which we have not seen in many a year. For it is truly one thing to always be there for the man who has smiled through heartbreak again and again. It’s quite something else when he rewards that support with a championship.
I know it’s hard to believe for yourself, Mr. Martin. That’s OK. We’re gonna believe for you.