They open the 2015 NASCAR season on Sunday with the legendary Daytona 500…the ‘Great American Race’.
From the 1950s, when they used to race on the beaches on the Florida coast, we have come to the Super speedway where the 2-and-a half mile track, seats 190,000-fans. It was Sunday in the sun, now it is a daylong national TV event, capping off what has become known as Speed Week.
They used to ‘run what they brung’ in Southern style twang, racing Hudson Hornets, Mercurys, Oldsmobiles, Ford Coupes, Plymouths and Pontiacs. Now it’s Chevy, Ford, Toyota. Back in the day they had convertibles that ran, now these things look like rocket ships.
The business has changed, from towing your car in from the gas station, to trailers-haulers, motor homes. They used to drive coupes and four doors, now they wheel out freshly painted shiny cars, looking like racing billboards.
The hard charging garage mechanic turned driver, covered with grease, wearing tee-shirts, a helmet, chomping on a stogie, has been replaced by the corporate American spokesman driver, full of cliches, taking part in press conference, wearing his firesuit with a spaceship helmet.
They’d run hard into the corner, cut each other off, wreck each other, and sometimes fight in the pits. Now there’s pack racing, 9-second pit stops, fuel strategy, and drafting for a 200mph lap.
There have been great races, great finishes, great controversies-finish line fights, great crashes Lee Petty and others, and the deaths of greats including Dale Earnhardt Sr, who died doing what he loved, racing upfront.
But some things are still in place from days gone by, to what happens when they drop the green flag Sunday. They will be racing hard, swapping paint and crashing. Daytona is about speed, daring, cursing, spins, flips, and the checkered flag. You win the Daytona 500 and it changes your career forever, just ask Derrick Cope or Trevor Boyes..
The names in the sports surely have changed, from the Petty’s, the Flock’s, Yarboroughs, and the Allison’s. The made for TV era included Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott and more. Our modern day lineups include names are Earnhardt Junior, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and even her, Danica Patrick.
But the personalities are still there now, just like back in the day, Fireball, King Richard, the Intimidator, the Alabama Gang, Wild Bill from Dawsonville and guys named Junior and Flinty. The fans are just as fiery then as now, good ole Southern boys, even if they don’t carry the Confederate flag around anymore.
Sunday will be something, it always is, the first race day of the season. The Daytona 500, then as now, a real slice of American life. Have at it boys.