Monday, May 26, 2008

A Change of Pace

As a young child, I was infatuated by speed. It had control of me. I loved cars. I loved fast cars. I loved going fast while riding my bike. I hated danger though. Totally different story right there. At every opportunity, I would watch any type of auto racing that was on. But the times have changed.

Something has happened to me. Speed should still have control over me. It should still infatuate me. But it does not. NASCAR used to be one of my favorite things to watch on TV. My fondest memory of any NASCAR race is from the 2000 or 2001 Pepsi 400 at Daytona. That was the first race I was into and that I watched all the way through. It had my parents wondering where I was. It got me hooked. Watching Dale Earnhardt, Sr. race was something that enticed me and helped me fall in love with the sport (yes, it is a sport). I watched on and off for the rest of that season, but I was well prepared for the next season.

The next season had hype for me. Dodge was returning to the track and Cheerios was promoting it by having the cars of Bill Elliott, Casey Atwood, John Andretti, and Kyle Petty in the cereal boxes. I tried to collect as many as I could. I tried to collect all the UPC codes so I could send in for more cars, but usually I always fell short in that regard. The Daytona 500 was quickly approaching and I was playing with my cars almost every day before and after school. To my great fortune, I got sick during Speed Week and was home to watch the Gatorade Dual 125s with my dad, who was less than thrilled. The Busch (or Nationwide, if you please) Series race was the day before and I watched intensely. Randy Lajoie won that race. I think.

Race day dawned and I was excited, for two reasons. Number one was that I was supposed to play my best friends’ indoor soccer team that day and number two was that it was race day. However, I was forced to bed before the race started because of my sickness, and I later learned my indoor soccer team lost. I missed Tony Stewart’s spectacular wreck in the back stretch which Earnhardt, whom I was watching intently, snuck by, but saw many other sights that helped me get hooked on racing.

Then came the final laps. Michael Waltrip in first. Dale, Jr. in second. The Intimidator in third. I was living for this. They had made a point about Waltrip never winning a race and I desperately wanted to see him win, followed by his teammate and his mentor. Then there was the crash as Waltrip and Junior crossed the finish line. I was unsure of what had happened. All I knew is that the little guy had won. I was content and went to bed to rest. Later, however, I was informed by my older sister that Dale Earnhardt, Sr. had died in the seemingly harmless wreck. I was stunned. I cried myself to sleep.

I followed racing so closely for the rest of the year. I kept track of who won every race, who won the poles, and so on. I prayed during every Lap 3 and supported the DEI cars. I also fostered a hatred for the Hendrick Motorsports cars. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are never going to be on my Christmas card list. I bought all the NASCAR or Dale, Sr. merchandise that I could and started drawing cars and so on. My teacher that year was a big racing fan and had met Jeff Burton in Charlotte. She helped foster my love for the sport. Kevin Harvick driving the all-white #29 car to victory in the Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta was one of the happiest sports-related moments I had at that point.

But then racing lost its appeal. There was something in it that just was not clicking for me. I started growing up a little bit more and just got bored with cars going fast in a circle. I started to dislike Junior, as he was coddled by the media. He just did not win. The Hendrick cars were all better and they just racked up all the points.

I would watch the occasional Daytona 500. I was behind Ward Burton all the way when he won. But none of the drivers had the “it” that could keep me going with the sport.
But I think I have found that driver. Kyle Busch. Yes, all of you hate him, but that’s why I like him. The man does not care while he’s racing. He just wants to win. He is not trying to make friends. He doesn’t care whether it is Junior or A.J. Allmendinger in front of him, he is going to pass them. That is what I like about him. The media portrays his driving style as reckless and malevolent, but if you are driving at 200 miles per hour, aren’t you already doing something reckless? Busch reminds me so much of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. He is always on a mission while he is driving. I like that. Watching him makes me want to get back into the sport.

Maybe I will.

All thanks to the one you hate.

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