Time changes us all. Sometimes we don’t even know it happened, and then something occurs to remind us we aren’t exactly the same people we used to be.
I am a Jeff Gordon fan — unabashedly, enthusiastically, can tell you his faults and his strengths — but not a crazy stalker-chic fan. He’s been my one ever since he took his first laps in the Winston Cup Series. I’ve followed him through all the years. We’ve been sneered at, jeered at, booed, ducked some snarky comments.
Yeah, me and Mr. Gordon have lived all of it. In fact, I can remember a time when I used to sit in the stands and listen to the crowd roar in displeasure when Jeff won again. And again. I put it up to sour apples. He was, after all, my driver. I could see no harm in that No. 24 beating the pants off the field because nobody else could figure it all out. I also held the unshakeable confidence that he’d continue to do so for quite some time to come.
That was then. Before Mr. Five Time arrived and before Kyle Busch was winning almost every race he entered in several series… all at once! I’ve been grinding my teeth for two seasons now. That and trying my best not to really watch the races, because, well, Gordon was just gonna end up in the wall again, or break something, or manage to misalign his car on the last stop. The litany goes on. These have been the seasons of my discontent.
Two weekends ago, I thought perhaps I might have found a new reason to watch racing again in the form of Trevor Bayne. The kid actually up and won the Daytona 500 after taking a few lessons from Jeff Gordon in pushing dancing partners around the track. There was a moment of euphoria I had been missing in NASCAR of late. Bayne was fresh faced, polite, almost dippy in his uncurbed astonishment at his good fortune.
Of course, there was the whole Wood Brothers connection that just slammed home the win to all of us tried and true fans. I cheered. I may have shed a tear in happiness as Bayne struggled to find victory lane. This was the good stuff.
I looked forward to Phoenix with a brighter attitude. It was possible that my rookies might continue to reap their unusual good luck. Maybe Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t continue to dominate the field. It was a new year and there was new hope. You will notice I did not mention Mr. Gordon in my enthusiasm… because every time in the past two years I started to hope, it was crushed in short and brutal order. No, I knew the future of my sport lay in the hands of the young drivers, and possibly even the overly proud Kyle Busch.
However, I smiled when that No. 24 climbed his way to the front of the field, then grimaced when he complained about being tight in traffic. Oh no. That is usually the herald for Gordon to start dropping through the field like an anvil. I turned on my laptop and cruised Twitterdom while the laps ground down. Somebody mentioned the No. 24 had led the most laps. I raised my eyebrow. We were past half-way and my boy was still up there. But no. It couldn’t be. Nah. Nope.
I dropped the laptop on the floor with 20 to go. My stomach plummeted with it. I actually felt ill. Seriously, I wondered what was wrong with me. I’ve been through this before. They would restart and Gordon would slide into the wall, his tire would go flat, the steering wheel might fly off… I swallowed to stave off the nausea. And of all cars for Gordon to be knocking on their back door… I had images of that No. 18 taking out the No. 24’s fuel tank after Gordon nudged him out of the way. The knells of doom rang loud in my living room. This would not be good.
My throat’s a bit sore today. The cats still haven’t come out from under the bed. My co-workers looked a bit odd when I jumped up and down after being asked if I liked the race on Sunday. I definitely need a new No. 24 keychain.
Jeff Gordon won. He won! I feel like there ought to have been dancing in the streets.
Bayne may have restored my faith in the future of NASCAR, but Jeff Gordon, my Jeff Gordon let me know that there’s still that place in my heart that has room to cheer for someone special. Where there is no rational thought, just pure unadulterated passionate thrill.
Maybe I’m not the naïve young NASCAR fan I once was. I don’t believe that every week will be the one where my driver will take the trophy. However, it is wonderful to know that it is possible. Maybe it can be. He’ll win just one more time.
And that will be why I keep watching.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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