Like a boat drifting through smoky fog, I remember my first NASCAR experience as if it were a beaming lighthouse.
Glued to my father, we sat on the couch in 2001 and watched TV. There I was, five-years-old, not really interested; I had no idea what they were talking about. The picture broke through some static, yet I still recollect it clearly.
A man sat on a chair, a wreath of flowers perched between him and another man. The first man had that newscaster voice, the one that your recaptured your attention after the commercials died out. Naturally, he brought me in, and I took in the scene as he questioned the second man. This man was in a nice suit, and his features were serious, quivering slightly as if he was holding emotions back.
When I poked Dad’s side and wondered who the serious man was, my father answered, “Jeff Gordon.” Quietly, I wanted to know who he was.
With that, it began.
Many people don’t remember simple events like watching a TV show from eleven years ago. I do. Mostly because it was a pivotal moment for me. Now, I analyze every thing from a different perspective.
NASCAR is more than a sport. Some don’t see that; they think of rednecks, beer, and turning left. Ridiculous. Not everyone who enjoys racing is a redneck, hillbilly, or hick. I’ve met fans that come from business backgrounds, ones who wear ties and suits to work everyday. The ones who think of turning left are just silly. We turn right on occasion. (If the right turns aren’t planned, though, it’s a bad thing.)
Beer is the only exception. Way back, all the way back to the Prohibition, alcohol was deemed illegal. Americans ran dry and craved a fix. So, deep in the Appalachians, moonshine was created. Bootleggers then sold mason jars filled with ‘bootleg whiskey’ and ran them to customers. The police caught on, and a car chase would ensue. To better evade the law, the bootleggers would adjust their cars for speed and better handling. Soon, they decided to race each other, first for fun, later for profit. Alcohol still plays a part, yet only when beer logos are planted on the hoods of cars. I see it as a subtle tribute to the roots that made NASCAR possible.
It’s history that fuels these cars, and the history continues to be written. We don’t retire numbers for that purpose. A nostalgic feeling falls over everyone when they see the #3 NNS car or NCWTS truck roll onto the track. It brings back visions of Dale Earnhardt Sr. battling with Terry Labonte back at Bristol, rattling cages. A lot of fans aren’t okay with the famous number returning to the track, but Richard Childress knew it was okay with the most important person: Dale. The Intimidator would’ve wanted the story of the 3 to go on, and Childress chose his two grandsons to keep penning every detail. The same goes for the #43; with so much history going along with it, the number still rests on the side of a Sprint Cup ride owned by, who else, Richard Petty. Young racers with notable last names, like Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, want to one-up their fathers’ achievements. When legacies are involved, things get icy; topping the greats, like the beloved Dale Earnhardt Sr., is complicated enough. The added pressure doesn’t aid you, especially if you’re Dale Earnhardt Jr.
There would be no history, however, if there was no hope.
Every legend or driver you hear about started their journey with hope and a need for speed. A need for speed may be natural, but hope is something you can lose easily. The road to success in the racing world is full of bumps and forks, known for jolting optimism loose. Only people with fierce determination rise to the top and live out their dreams.
Have you ever heard of a passive NASCAR driver? No? That’s what I thought.
Many drivers we idolize experienced a low point to their way to the top. Some considered giving up on their dreams and going for a more ‘stable’ occupation. They needed was one good run to catch the eye of the right person, and they were set for life. Obviously, they toughed it out, or we wouldn’t be watching them every weekend. What helped them get through it? Hope.
Looking back to that day in 2001, I had no idea what I was getting into, or why Dad sat down religiously every Sunday. Now, eleven years later, I’m sitting down with Dad to watch the race.
Call me a redneck, I don’t care. Say that all these drivers do is turn left, big whoop.
Never say NASCAR is just a sport, though. It’s built on sweet hope and cherished history.
And it means more to us than you can imagine.