My Racing Heroes Part 1

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A clear blue sky; seventy degree weather; a slight breeze helping the American flag off in the distance show off the stars and stripes; it’s Sunday afternoon. A sudden phrase rings out echoing to and fro around me and the thousands I am standing with, “Gentlemen… start your engines!” The thousands and I stand up (as if we weren’t already) and start yelling to the very top of our lungs with excitement. These are the days that I live for. This is race day… or at least how I imagine it to be.

Feb 20, 2011; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; A number three is painted in the infield grass in memory of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Sr who died 10 years ago in the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

You see, I have been a race fan since the day of my birth. In fact, I was born on the Sunday of a race. In that duration of time, as far back as I can possibly remember, every Sunday (and the occasional Saturday night) during racing season, I have sat in front of a television screen to watch NASCAR Cup racing. For me it’s like a religion, it’s just a normal part of every day life and it is a part of my character. I am stock car racing influenced. The way I act, the way I think and the way I dress has mostly been influenced by stock car racing and the drivers whom are my favorites. Racing has also became a bulletin board of my life in that particular races have become benchmark of points in my life. I can remember what I did on days when I watched a race or in the week(s) before or after a race. More than anything else racing has given to me, the memories of days I would have forgotten without it are things that I treasure.

I wish I could remember February 26, 1984; it was the day I was born. How fitting it was that I, a future die-hard race fan, would be born on the date of a race. Not just any race either, the race held on this day holds some importance in racing history. At Daytona, Florida a little more than a week previous to this date, Ricky Rudd suffered a nasty wreck wherein his car flipped violently. The incident left Rudd beaten, battered and bruised to say the least. He raced in the Daytona 500 with his swollen and bruised eyes having to be taped open so he could see. A week later he was racing in Richmond, Virginia in somewhat better condition but still with his eyes having to be taped open. Rudd gutted out the pain he endured the week before and won the race. Even though I had nothing to do with the win and even though I’m not much of a fan of Ricky Rudd, the fact I was born on this particular date when he got that win gives me a little bit of pride. It makes me feel good to know that my birth date has a shared significance in racing.

I would be lying to you, me and the world if I said that I remember every race from 1984 until now. I don’t and would never claim to but there are bits and pieces of races that I do remember from “the old days.” One particular moment in my life carries an important meaning to me. Late one night sometime in the summer of 1988. I got up late one night and decided to watch an old race tape. The particular tape I wanted to watch was the March 27, 1988 TranSouth 500 from Darlington, South Carolina where Lake Speed won his first and eventually only win in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. I remember sleepily trying to get the tape into the VCR but it would not go. I kept trying and trying until I shoved it in. Unfortunately, the tape would not play so I gave up and went back to sleep. What makes this little insignificant moment in my life so significant to me is that Lake Speed ended up becoming one of my favorite drivers in late 1993. Why I chose that particular race tape to watch on that night is a mystery to me because we had a lot of race tapes of wins from my favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt. The meaning of this event did not dawn on me until around 1995 when this memory came back to me and I realized what race tape I was trying to watch.

January 24, 2013; Huntersville, NC; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Joe Gibbs addresses the media during the 2013 Sprint Media Tour. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

1989 was the year of my first NASCAR Winston Cup race. I have been to hundreds of smaller races but that particular race was the biggest I have been to. The days before my family and I were set to go to the race in Sears Point, my brother and I caught the chicken pox; typical of the luck my family and I seem to have. We went anyway though, the tickets were hard to get and we all did not want to miss going to the race. My brother and I suffered through the long trip (it was June and starting to get hot,) and the annoying calamine lotion. When we got to the track, we were miserable. My brother and I had to wear long sleeve shirts and we were hot and itchy. Besides that, we could not see anything on the track as this race was a road course event, not an oval one. We gave up and went back to the hotel. The oddity of this race is that Ricky Rudd won while my favorite and later favorite Dale Earnhardt and Lake Speed finished fourth and fifth respectively.

Rusty Wallace won the Winston Cup Championship in 1989 and his victory celebration still brings to memory my dad ignorantly yet hilariously wishing for Wallace to break his ankle as he jumped up and down from the roof of his car, to its hood, to the ground in celebration of beating Earnhardt for the championship. The next races I remember are the two that directly followed that event; the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying race and the Daytona 500. The Twin 125 race determined the starting positions of drivers in the Daytona 500. I still remember the broadcaster’s voices of this race as Dale Earnhardt muscled his way through the field in route to victory.

Chris Economacki: “If there ever was the epitome of the image of a racing driver, it’s Dale Earnhardt.”

Ken Squire: “Here comes Earnhardt down to the bottom of the race track! The man in black begins to assert himself. He’s underneath Bobby Hillin, the Midland, Texas driver. Here he comes working Lake Speed, bottom of the race track knocking down another one. Dale Earnhardt, he is an iron man.”

Ned Jarrett: “Look at him down on the inside, those new tires are really working for him. Bill Elliott, same way, they’ll finish first and second in this race.”

Squire: “Phil Parsons feels the heat drops back to fifth.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have relived that moment in my head or how many times I have watched that race as it’s one we had on tape, lost and now have again. Earnhardt did end up winning the race with Bill Elliott second as commentator Ned Jarrett so brilliantly predicted. Even though I have watched that moment and so many others so much, I can recall specific commentary from many other races yet when it comes to remembering what I did yesterday, I can barely remember.

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Tags: Dale Earnhardt Lake Speed NASCAR

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