Every year, I get just a bit excited about the Daytona 500, and I make the effort to watch the "Great American Race", one of NASCAR's most popular. Sunday's race proved to be an exciting one, though the long rain delay, lasting over 6 hours, almost did me in. I was ready to shut it off, but I decided to stick it out as it got more intense towards the end. And, in dramatic fashion, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., pulled out the victory. As an auto racing fan, and NASCAR fan specifically, it was awesome to watch. I'd been missing some of this kind of excitement from NASCAR for quite a few years.
I grew up loving NASCAR racing. No one else in my family, and none of my friends, were fans, though, so I don't know where this interest came from. But if there was a race on, I watched it. I didn't go out of my way to watch. I just watched if I came across one while watching TV.
It wasn't until much later, as an adult, that I was invited by one of my friends, Darrell, and his father-in-law, to attend a NASCAR race. The race was at one of two road courses on the NASCAR circuit, at Watkins Glen, NY. I love the road courses. They're so much more exciting than the traditional ovals because the cars make multiple turns and change elevations as they move down the track. I was very thankful for the opportunity, and I went to a total of three races back in the mid-90s at Watkins Glen. It was here that I met my first driver, Ward Burton, and I became a fan of his since I didn't really follow any other drivers. Ward wasn't one of the most popular drivers. I really didn't have a good reason to follow him other than the fact that I met him and he seemed nice enough.
As I became a bigger and bigger fan, due to attending the races at Watkins Glen (and it's true: once you attend a race, you become a fan.... you can't help it!), Ward Burton became more successful in the #22 Caterpillar sponsored car, and in 2002, he won the Daytona 500! It was one of the most exciting races I had ever seen (though on TV). But within a few years, as the rules changed and the drivers became less of a personality, and the cars were modified until they all looked the same (there was really no difference between a Chevy, Dodge, or Ford), my excitement for NASCAR began to diminish. Eventually, Ward stopped driving, and I really didn't have another driver I wanted to root for. I hated that NASCAR became more money-driven. It wasn't about the personalities anymore, or the car makes and competition. The same drivers seemed to win every week. It wasn't interesting anymore.
I pretty much stopped watching for the past 8 years or so. But I still got excited about the Daytona 500. Yesterday's race was worth watching. I was even rooting for ol' Dale Jr. The race didn't disappoint. Does this make me a NASCAR fan again? I don't know. I'm not sure I'll be watching the next race. I still really don't have a driver to root for. That really is important, in my mind. It's hard to watch a race if you don't have someone to root for. There aren't any other racers out there quite like Ward Burton. Ward is from South Boston, VA, and speaks with a heavy Southern drawl. He is as polite as anyone I ever met, but don't cross him out on the track, because he has a temper. I was able to meet him several times over his driving career, and he was always kind to me. I miss having a guy like Ward to root for. But the race was fun to watch. I hope my interest holds up. NASCAR can be a lot of fun.
Have a great evening, everyone!