Daytona 500 – Super Bowl Part Deux

To many race fans, yesterday was the most important day of the year, when the famed 58th running of the Daytona 500 took place at the storied track in Florida.  It’s NASCAR’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, but unlike football, they run the biggest race of the year first. For most casual fans of racing, it’s the one event that’s a must see in the ten month long chase for the Cup.

Most folks can’t even name a handful of racers, much less the sponsors who shell out  millions of dollars a year to have their names plastered on the sides of these cars, but all in all, it’s an exciting start of a lengthy race season, and a sure sign that spring is right around the corner.  NASCAR is as popular in the United States as soccer is around the world.  Millions flock each and every week to set up camp, tailgate, and watch their favorite racers speed around the track at almost 200 mph, turning left at every corner. For some – it’s monotonous – for others – it’s a passion and a rite of passage.

Crowd favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr., last year’s Daytona champ Joey Logano, and 38 other drivers prepared themselves for 200 laps of non-stop action. Pregame rituals, star-studded interviews, and the most famous words in sports – “Gentlemen, start your engines!”, gets the hours long festivities under way. The long winter of discontent, is replaced by a season of potentially great endings – all culminating in the last ten races of the year – for the championship of the racing world.

The NASCAR season is always well-timed. It begins just as the NBA and NHL are mired in their mid-season posturing, and baseball is beginning to take shape with pitchers and catchers reporting to their respective Grapefruit and Cactus League camps. The day belongs to those who love speed, and don’t mind sitting for hours waiting for the big race to begin, in the hope that their favorite rules the day, and brings the coveted Daytona championship home to start the season.

Some folks don’t think that NASCAR racing is a true sport – like football, hockey, or baseball, where physical talent and the concept of team creates a winner or loser. The racers are in great shape, spend countless hours on the track practicing, and have a legion of folks that work daily on insuring that each car is primed and ready to go on race day. One little blip, one thing that feels wrong on the car, can make or break getting the checkered flag. Thousandths of a second mean the difference between victory lane, and a ending up in back of the pack.

This is the start of week after week of constant action – with very few breaks – save for Easter and Mother’s Day. NASCAR has built it’s reputation on being a true family sport – one that allows everyone to enjoy the spectacle that is racing in America.  It has come a long way over the years, and you can find fans from the heartland of the country, to the largest cities and beyond.  Racing has become an annual ritual – and there’s nothing to say that it can’t continue to be an ongoing phenomenon, bringing more and more fans into the fold.

Unlike the other major sports, NASCAR  doesn’t have the kind of major following of daily fans that talk about their teams incessantly. The race is all about the weekend, the time trials, the lesser races the day before, with trucks and sprint cars, and then the big kahuna every Sunday. It’s what race fans live for, set aside time to watch each and every week, and analyze how their ‘guy’ or ‘gal’, is going to take the points lead, and fight for the chance to be the best of the best.

There have been many trailblazers in the sport – Richard Petty, Carl Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., and others that led the way in bringing NASCAR racing from it’s infancy racing through the sand and mud in Florida many years ago, to where it is today – one of the most watched spectator sports in the world. Yes, it’s not Premier League Soccer, World Series baseball, and not even close to being the spectacle that is the Super Bowl. It is, however, Americana, and it’s where the majority of average folks, no matter their status or standing in society, can come together each week and enjoy a group of athletes turning left around a track numerous times, and bringing some much needed excitement to an otherwise crazy world.

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