Monday, February 15, 2010

The Daytona 500

This year's Daytona 500 is over.  The almost-seven-hour marathon was interrupted by numerous cautions, most of the later ones concerning a pothole in Turn Two.  Thankfully, the Florida Department of Transportation had personnel on hand to take care of it.  Eighteen in all:  one to shovel the asphalt, ten to hold warning signs, and eight to nap in the yellow trucks.

I was disappointed--as I have been every year since 2001--that Mark Martin didn't win.

I like Mark Martin.  He's all I have left since Dale Earnhardt died in Turn Three in 2001's 500.  Mark drove Fords for years, until he got too old and was unceremoniously let go by Jack Roush so he could drive Chevys and be more successful.  Oh well.

I come from a long line of race fans.  Uncle Johnny owned two Sportsman Modified cars--1956 Fords--back in the 1960s.  One of those he sold to Ralph Earnhardt so Ralph's son, Dale, would have a car to drive.  The Earnhardts tried to paint it red;  it came out Pepto-Bismol pink.  That paint job's probably what made Dale so tough.  You've got to be a real man (or an idiot) to drive a race car like that on North Georgia and Carolina tracks.

NASCAR ain't the NASCAR I grew up with.  Tiny Lund, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Fireball Roberts...drivers who drove what they brung--with manufacturers who had the philosophy "win on Sunday, sell on Monday".  And it worked.  Until things got sissified.

One universal car body type, with only the nose and tail and brand stickers to delineate Fords from Chevys from Dodges.  Don't get me started on Toyotas in racing.  But I understand they have great acceleration.

One engine type, with horsepower and specs mandated by NASCAR.  Along with shocks, springs, etc.  That's why every car has the same ad stickers on the front fenders, which aren't really fenders at all, just part of a unibody shell that every car shares.

So Mark finished 12th.  Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was 22nd at the second-to-last caution.  During the next green he moved up to 10th.  Then, on the final lap, he moved from 10th to 2nd.  He drove (at last) like his daddy taught him.  Another third of a mile and he would have won.

But, alas, the finish line is where it is on purpose.  He had 499 miles to win that race, and he didn't.  He sandbagged until the closing laps, counting on someone to wreck so he could move up.

That's not how he learned racin'.  Dale Sr. once said he wanted to get out front so he could "see the air".

It's also a good place to be if you want to win a race.

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