Sunday, February 10, 2008

NASCAR's Back!

Call us rednecks if it makes you feel better, but WE are NASCAR fans!

Last night was the Bud Shootout, which is the first race of the season. It is, however, NOT a points race. The only drivers who can participate are those who earned a pole position last year, in addition to the previous winners of the Bud Shootout and the old Busch Clash.

Last night was special for another reason too. It was the first NASCAR event since Dale Earnhardt Jr. left the company his late father founded, DEI (Dale Earnhardt Incorporated) and began driving for Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motor Sports.

This was a decision that Jr. made late last spring. I really think this was a good decision for both sides. Dale Jr lost his father when Dale Earnhardt Sr was killed in a last lap crash of the 2001 Daytona 500. Jr was in his mid 20s when this happened and he has been missing that "father" figure in his life since that terrible accident.

Rick Hendrick lost his son, Ricky, in late October of 2004 in a small plane crash. All eight passengers and both pilots were killed as they were on their way to a NASCAR race in Martinsville, Virginia. Ricky was 24 at the time.

The Hendricks and the Earnhardts were friends and respected each other's talent and commitment to the sport of racing. It was hard for both Dale Jr and Rick to go on after their individual losses, but push forward they did, and with guts and determination, they both have succeeded.

However, Dale Jr felt it was time to move on from DEI and was entertaining offers from several car owners. On that day in early June as I watched the press conference announcing that Jr would be driving for Hendrick, tears slowly slid down my cheeks. (Yes, I cry at almost everything and I felt this was an emotional scene.)

Here was Rick Hendrick, stepping into Dale Jr's professional life, knowing that that he would help Jr make even more of himself in the racing community AND provide the possible guidance that Jr had been missing since his father was killed.

And here was Dale Jr, stepping into Rick's professional life, knowing that he might be the young man that Rick needed to share his fatherly (and boss type) advice with.

They were soon to embark on a journey that would enrich both of their lives, helping each other continually deal with the losses that each had endured. Although neither of them could ever possibly replace the loved ones they lost, both of them would be fulfilling a need for one another. This change though, wouldn't actually take place until the beginning of the 2008 racing season, which essentially started right after the 2007 season ended!

Last night as the Bud Shootout was winding down and they were on the last lap, I couldn't help but think that it would be fabulous if Jr won, not only for himself and his new team owner, but for his late dad and his late friend. As Jr led going into that last lap, I knew it was a long way around that two and a half mile track and a lot could happen. I was just hoping that Jr could hold on and block to keep his position.

Jr won.

Although I've been watching NASCAR for years and I've seen guys excited over winning a race, I don't think I've ever seen anything like what I saw last night. Jr was absolutely thrilled, grinning from ear to ear, and you could hear it in his voice and see it in his face. He and Rick Hendrick must have hugged and shook hands a dozen times in the first few minutes after the race. You could almost hear them thanking Dale Sr and Ricky.

Yep, NASCAR's back.


Paulie said...

Once in awhile I watch it but I have never really been interested in certain drivers. Glad you enjoy it!