Monday, February 16, 2004

Well, I am currently in the middle of doing laundry, but have a few minutes to update ye ole blog.

First off, props to Juli, Allyson and Sara who showed up at my door with a Valentines Day card last night as I watched the Daytona 500 on tape, because I could not watch it earlier in the day. Thanks ladies, love y'all!

Second, Saturday was opening day for Aggie baseball due to weather washing out the game Friday. I went, froze my rear end off and saw two things I'd never seen before in person. I saw former President George H.W. Bush throw out the first pitch and then proceeded to be wowed by the poise and gracefulness of Aggie southpaw Zach Jackson as he pitched a complete game, 7-inning, no hitter against A&M- CC in a 15-0 win by the Ags. A no hitter and a former President, pretty cool. No hitters are rare in baseball, so the chances of ever seeing run are very rare, I've been fortunate enough now to see one. A&M swept the weekend too.

Now, on to the Daytona 500. To steal a line from a friend of mine...it rocked my face off. For those of you not familar with NASCAR history, let me explain. Dale Earnhrdt Sr., the Intimidator, the Man in Black, the black #3, the Big "E", and the seven time Winston Cup Champion only won one Daytona 500 in his career. It came in his 20th Daytona 500 race in 1998. Along the way he won more races at Daytona than any other driver in track history. He had once lead the 500 by almost a full lap on the final lap only to cut a tire down and lose as he limped the wounded GM Goodwrench Chevy home. So many times he came so close, and in 1998 he finally won. Many consider this to be the most historical moment in NASCAR history. Upon winning the Daytona 500, while bringing the black #3 down pit lane, he was greated by every team member from every team in the race, that is the level of respect the sport had for that one man. The man many believe brought NASCAR into the mainstream and spurred its growth through the 1980s and 1990s. That win came on February 15, 1998.

In 2001, Dale Earnhardt Inc., cars #15 NAPA Chevy,driven my Michael Waltip, and the # 8 Budweiser Chevy, driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. were running first and second on the final lap, repectively. Behind Jr., was the black #3 driven by his father. That final lap, Dale Sr. was doing something out of the norm, he was blocking the cars behind him from passing him, not challenging for the win, so his friend and his son could battle for the lead. Entering turn 3, the #40 driven by Sterling Marlin got under the left rear of Dale Sr. and tapped him, the #3 shot down the track and as Sr. corrected and tried to save the car, the Goodwrench Chevy shot up the track and hit the wall at about 180mph. Drivers and fans had seen worst wrecks and as the #15 drove to victory, the first for Michael Waltrip in 473 Winston Cup starts and Jr, finished second, not much attention was paid to the wrecked black #3, driven by the toughest man in NASCAR. That crash took the life of Dale Sr., it didn't look like much, but in an instant the living legend of the sport was gone. The reigning king was dead and the spotlight and attention moved to the heir, Dale Jr..

When NASCAR returned to Daytona in July of 2001, the first race since Sr. death, it was like a made for television movie. Dale Jr. dominated the race, and through sheer will and drive, won the race. Not much more can be said without making it sound like a fish story, but no words can do justice to that day.

In 2002, Dale Jr. crashed out of the Daytona 500 in a late race wreck. In 2003, in a rain shortened race, Junior experienced a failing battery, had to pit and was 2 laps down. He made one lap up and was running at the front of the pack just within reach of the leader and teamate Michael Waltrip, all that was needed was a caution for Junior to get back on the lead lap, instead the rains came just past the halfway point, the race was red flagged (stopped) and eventually called final.

In 2004, Junior was seen, again, as the driver to beat at Daytona. He finished 2nd in the Bud Shootout All Star Race, won his 125 qualifying race and inherited the pole when pole sitter Greg Biffle was forced to change race engines and move to the rear of the field. Again Junior had a good car, but 2002 Winston Cup Champion had a car just as good leading most of the middle portions of the race with Junior in close pursuit. It came down to Junior and Stewart and the lapped car of Kurt Busch. Busch was put laps down by Junior after their two cars rubbed early in the race damaging the #97 and forcing an unscheduled pit stop, which at Daytona is death. It was obvious that Busch would not help Junior make the pass for the lead by going with him in the draft to hang out Stewart. Yet, with 20 or so laps left, Junior went solo, under the #20 of Stewart and somehow made a pass without any help, a move which reminded many of his father. Dale Sr. was a master of the draft, many said he seemingly could see the wind, and many say his son has inherited that ability. Junior held off the late charge of charge of Stewart and won the Daytona 500, in only his sixth try. Six years to the day after his father and three years after the very race took his father's life.

Some stories are made up in Hollywood, some are to much, but every once in awhile one actually happens. One with so much emotion, so much history, and so much drama that it is difficult to understand it all, difficult to take it all in. Yet, every once in awhile one happens, one that gets into your heart, one that can even bring the toughest men to tears. With the win, the kid in the shadow took another step into his own spotlight. With the win, many a fan shed tears of joy, I know, I was one of them.

Friends ask me what it is that makes this Rhode Island native love NASCAR. Yes, it's the cars, the speed, the engineering and the strategy involved, it's also the people. The crews, the drivers and even the fans. There is something about it that is different, something still pure and not corrupted by the big egos and the prima donas of other sports. NASCAR is the only sport that starts every race with a prayer broadcast on television. It still stands for something. And evey now and again, it gives us a Hollywood script, written in real life. This Daytona 500, the sports biggest stage, it's biggest young star, the heir to the sport's biggest name, won the biggest race and showed the biggest determination, heart and guts to do it. An impossible solo pass, and a his own page in the book of Earnhrdt lore and legend.

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