For some reason, one that I can no longer remember, on Feburary 18, 2001 I was flipping through channels and decided to stop on the Daytona 500. The year before, my math and homeroom teacher had a bit of an obsession about Bobby Labonte and I heard a lot about NASCAR. Some kids I hung out with watched it. But I had never cared. I probably made fun of it?
That particular Sunday my mom wasn’t home, my dad was doing something and who knows where my siblings were. It was just one of those days. I was vegging out on the couch downstairs. And I stopped flipping channels. I don’t know when in the race it was. For sure after the wreck when Tony Stewart flipped over and landed on the roof of his teammate’s car that was 20 positions behind him at the time. I didn’t find DW all that annoying at the time. Mikey was leading, Dale Jr was behind him and Dale Sr behind him. I think it was pretty close to the end. I stopped, rooted for the Dales (and Mikey, because from what I could gain he was related to the guy calling the race and that guy was getting emotional).
And then the wreck happened. The wreck. Not much more needs to be said. And then it became more than a race, a stupid sport that I had most likely made fun of before. It was a character story. I wanted to know about the Earnhardts. My dad still subscribed to Time and when we got the issue on Tuesday, there was an article by Brian Williams. About how he was a fan. And suddenly I was hooked. Brian made it okay for me to be a fan. He was smart and well-spoken…and well everything that the stereotype wasn’t.
And I was intrigued by Dale Jr. That season, I don’t think I missed a race. I had favorite drivers, non-favorite drivers, drivers I hated. I knew the history of the sport. I devoured everything I could. The next year when we went to Myrtle Beach, we stopped in Charlotte to see Dale Earnhardt Inc. The year after that I went to the first of many trips to Michigan International Speedway with my dad. My dream job suddenly was to work in the industry.
I became a devoted Dale Jr fan. I stood by him in the good times and the not so good times (the later seems to be the easiest to recall). My heart broke watching him leave the company his father built and last year watching him struggle. Thursday I got home just in time to listen to Dale’s radio during the Duels. I about cried hearing him, it felt like the Dale Jr I fell in love with (not romantically…I’m not crazy enough to think that…) was back. Last year, I thought that I was getting close to not being able to watch racing anymore. Now I can’t wait (also think NASCAR made some smart decisions with rules this year).
Green flag for my tenth NASCAR season drops in 4 hours. I still can’t explain why I love watching cars go in circles for hours, but I can’t wait to do it again!