I signed my contract to move to New York City from the United Kingdom on September 10th, 2001 after a year of largely fruitless but ultimately successful negotiation with my home office. That night, I went out in England to celebrate what was to be the start of a new adventure in what is, in my humble opinion, the greatest city in the world. An entire life in a new country lie ahead of me.
I woke up to that entire life in jeopardy.
No one needs any reminder of what happened on that truly terrible next day; still, I never wavered on my desire to come to this country and its largest city. Six weeks later, I landed at JFK and the first thing I did was have the cab driver take me down as close to Ground Zero as possible – at least ten city blocks from the still smoking pile of twisted metal and broken dreams.
So for many reasons this past weekend outside of NASCAR was particularly momentous: I’ll start, quickly, with the Royal Wedding of Prince Will and Kate Middleton on Friday (didn’t the Queen look lovely in canary yellow) which was a special moment for this long exiled but very proud Brit. If there’s one thing we do well on the other side of the pond it’s pomp and ceremony and Friday’s nuptials were just that. Then, of course on Sunday evening we had the news of the long-awaited death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of the elite Navy Seals in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Given the wall-to-wall coverage of the events in London, you knew it would take an event of quite monumental significance to get the Royal Wedding out of the news – and so it proved.
Here in New York and elsewhere in the country, there were impromptu gatherings in Times Square and more poignantly at Ground Zero as regular folks like you and I celebrated the demise of the world’s most wanted terrorist and the man responsible for the single worst terrorist atrocity committed on American soil. Nothing – not even time – can truly heal the wounds that tore families asunder that day and ended lives so horribly prematurely, nor can it bring back the brave men of the FDNY who ran into the Towers that fateful morning just to do their duty. But there is at least some small sense of closure that the man who lead the evil assault has finally been brought to justice.
Such displays of patriotism, as we saw Sunday night here in the city, are not uncommon in our great sport of NASCAR and one so very timely example came during the first race after 9/11 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. picked up what was then his fourth Cup victory at the Monster Mile. (Remember, the first race at New Hampshire five days after 9/11 was postponed in tribute). At Dover that day, fans, drivers and crew members were quick to display their colors in a real wave of patriotic fervor. “It was great to have Lee Greenwood and Tanya Tucker singing those songs before the race,” NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver said, echoing the thoughts and respect of millions. And on his post-win celebration: “I grabbed the American flag and made a Polish Victory Lap to show the fans we’re all just people. We (drivers) put our pants on the same way they do.”
In so many ways, NASCAR fans are the heartbeat of this great nation: working class folks with humble roots grounded in honor and service to their country. It’s something that’s reflected on the cars themselves, with Ryan Newman a proud representative of the US Army – a primary sponsor of his No. 39 Stewart-Haas Chevy. And it’s entirely appropriate that Bobby Labonte will run an Armed Forces Foundation paint scheme this weekend at the Lady in Black to honor the brave men and women who help keep this great country safe. It’s just a shame there’s not a Navy Seals paint scheme to go along with it.
Many of the drivers have taken to Twitter to air their views on the historic events of the last day or so. DW, very much the voracious Twitterer, chimed in: “Its official, Bin Laden is dead, God Bless America and all those who have diligently worked to make this day possible…” Five-time Double J was more sanguine, claiming, “Man, I went to bed early and missed the big news. What a way to wake up though. Thanks to all the men and women who serve our country.” But perhaps the most forthright, honest assessment came from a man who doesn’t mince words, Kevin Harvick: “Finally, that bastard Bin Laden is dead. Justice has been served.” Those are just some of the comments, rivals united over the common love of their country and those who serve it.
So expect to see more patriotic fervor at the grand old Lady in Black this weekend as the NASCAR community gathers for the first time since the news. A trip to Darlington is always a special occasion but after such a terrible swathe of tornadoes, especially in Alabama – one of the sport’s strongholds – and for a sport that so rightly honors the selfless sacrifice of America’s Armed Forces this Saturday night should be a huge celebration of everything that makes NASCAR such a great sport.
*Two quick points on the race (and forgive me not really writing on something topical this week):* Man, Jeff Gordon really knows how to find the places not to wreck, huh? That was a hard, hard hit at Richmond. And despite his morale boosting win at Phoenix in race two of the season, the partnership with Alan Gustafson is still truly to bear fruit. That’s not to say it won’t, it’s just not been the best start (win aside) for the twenty-year veteran. And finally, it was nearly the perfect weekend for Denny Hamlin who won his own short track charity event on Thursday, the Nationwide race on Friday and then fell one place short to his teammate Kyle Busch on Saturday. For a driver without a top-10 on the year, that was almost the perfect antidote to a sluggish start to 2011. And now, he enters Darlington the defending champion… a crucial weekend lies ahead to see if the slump can be kicked for good.
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