One off week down, one more to go. Hopefully, you were able to spend your Easter holiday with loved ones and managed to survive the weekend without any NASCAR racing. Now we have just one bye week for the remainder of the season, and I am confused. Not because I question the scheduling of the events this year, but because normally I would be thrilled to hear this early in the year that there is only one more off week. Being that there was no racing this past weekend, I figured it would be a good opportunity to write about my passion for NASCAR – how and when it began and whether I still have that same love I did in my “rookie” days.
As a baby, before I could even speak, I was fascinated with cars. Despite the choking hazard warnings that come with the packaging, my grandmother would buy me Hot Wheels cars. Fortunately, I played with them the proper way, rolling them along the floor and constantly spinning the wheels. So it really shouldn’t have been any surprise to my parents when around the age of 6 or so, I started to take a liking to the television on Sunday afternoons, where it displayed 43 cars going around the circles for several hours. The colorful paint schemes and Goodyear tires caught my attention and my love for NASCAR was born. I quickly started collecting trading cards of the drivers and my Hot Wheels were no longer that of regular street cars – they were replaced by replica vehicles of those I saw on the television screen each Sunday. Being from Alabama, I had to be a fan of Davey Allison; however, his untimely death in 1993 was shortly after I had become a fan and I didn’t really get to see all that much of him. At this stage of my life, it wasn’t as important to me who the person behind the wheel was as it was which car had the best looking paint scheme. There was no better looking hot rod in those days than that No. 2 black and gold Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac which Rusty Wallace piloted in the early 90’s. To this day, there is no paint scheme I have liked more.
It wasn’t until a few years later – the final weeks of the 1999 season to be exact – that I became a diehard fan. I refused to miss a race, and when there was no way I could watch it live, I made sure my VCR was recording it. I always bought the products that sponsored my favorite drivers while I avoided the products associated with drivers I despised. My mom, somewhat concerned with my new addiction, thought it would be a great idea to have my dad take me to the Talladega Superspeedway for what was then known as the Busch Series race. Her hope was that seeing the cars up close and in person surrounded by a bunch of crazy drunk people would help me get it out of my system and be done as a fan.
As you can probably guess, that idea didn’t exactly pan out.
I will never forget the first car I saw on the massive speedway. Darrell Waltrip, in the No. 66 Farewell Tour K-Mart Ford was attempting a fast lap for second round qualifying (up until 2001, NASCAR held two qualifying sessions – one on Friday afternoon that locked in the top 25 speeds, and the second round was held Saturday morning that set the rest of the field). Watching from the tri-oval, I remember the goosebumps all over me as I watched him go through turn 2 at what seemed to be the speed of an F-15. That same feeling returned hours later when the rest of the Cup drivers came out onto the track in one big pack for Happy Hour. Even though it was just a practice session, you would have never known with all the Dale Earnhardt fans cheering him on to the lead the front of the pack. I quickly found myself doing the same thing. While it wasn’t the main event for the afternoon, these were the drivers I had been following for years and it was the highpoint of my day to see my heroes preparing for the battle set to occur the next day. I was forced to watch this battle from the television as my dad had to go out of town, but I’m not complaining. It would be just six months later until I saw my first Cup race, and it turned out to be historic one.
We returned to Talladega to watch the running of the Winston 500, the final year for that sponsor of the track’s fall race. Talladega was also one of the tracks where Winston ran a special promotion known as the No Bull 5. If any of the top-5 finishers from the previous No Bull 5 race where to win, that driver would collect a million dollars along with a lucky fan. Off the top of my head, I could only tell you one of them who was eligible, and that was Dale Earnhardt, Sr. The Intimidator, running 18th with just five laps to go, went to work when it mattered most and was able to rally for his 76th and final career victory. Admittedly, I wasn’t much of Dale Earnhardt fan, but I remember appreciating how I just saw the best ever win a race. Not to mention, it was pretty cool that he made some lucky person in attendance a million dollars richer. My dad and I have not missed a Talladega race since, and my passion for the sport continued to grow for several years.
To use a sports cliché, I am probably past my prime as a diehard NASCAR fan. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the sport. Sunday mornings are the still the best part of my week; the hours leading up to the green flag are when my anticipation is at its highest. I try to watch every race and if I know I can’t, I record it (the only change there is I now use DVR instead of a VCR. Thank God for that). I try to go to a new racetrack every year, not as a member of the media but as a fan. For me, the excitement is still there and it’s my hope that it continues to be.
But that brings me back to the very beginning. Why am I not thrilled there is only one bye week left this year? The answer is pretty simple – life. I am still young and am not married, but I have reached the point where life can’t be an oval racetrack. You can’t just keep going around in circles over one thing. NASCAR has been my circle for most of my life, and it has almost become a job trying to set my schedule around Sunday afternoons (writing for the Frontstretch is not my day job. I do this for the love of the sport). There are more important things in the world than worrying who can make it on fuel and who can’t. Having said that, it would be nice to have some more off weeks, and I hate to say it, but maybe a couple fewer races. I look forward to seeing the cars on track at Texas this weekend just as much as any other race, but only one more week of rest until the end of the season may have this fan changing his stance a little more by the middle of November.
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