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Fired Up About NASCAR

By Chris Johnson
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54th Annual Daytona 500

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

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With two major events taking place this weekend in Florida, I thought one sport came up short while the other exceeded expectations.  NASCAR showed the NBA that this is how you throw a party.  So where did basketball go wrong and where did racing go right (or left if you really want to get technical about it)?

Growing up I was always a fan of NBA basketball.  I loved the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan and the Bulls, Reggie Miller and Spike Lee in the Garden, Bird and Magic, Nikes, dunks, blocks, cross overs, all of it. Growing up you would go out back and shoot hoops with your friends at the court down the road.  Every male in my neighborhood over the age of 8 had a hoop in their driveway. It was a natural progression to love hoops.  I never really gave much thought to racing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but that it wasn’t something that I could really get into.  It wasn’t like we had a dirt track in our backyard and could compete with the rest of the guys on my block.  Even being from North Carolina, the sport was just kind of foreign to me.  In fact, one time when I was a little kid my dad took me to a race or qualifying of something at the race track and the only thing I can remember about it was that it was really loud.  I wanted to tell you this because I just want to show you that I am not exactly a lifelong racing fan – I didn’t grow up in a family of mechanics with my head under the hood.  I grew up predisposed to love basketball.

Now somewhere along the road my feelings towards both the NBA and NASCAR started to change.  I don’t know if it was the departure of Jordan (the first time), the way the league changed and the players’ attitudes towards the game, when Jordan left the second time, or when the Hornets left Charlotte, but I just didn’t look at the NBA the same.  I still loved the game of basketball, and very rarely do I miss a Carolina game or a minute of March Madness – but I wasn’t in love with the NBA.  I still make it to several Bobcats games a year because I like watching the game of basketball (and because the tickets are usually free).

My feelings for racing changed as well. A few years ago some friends of mine took me to the All Star race, and I was blown away.  The tailgating, the “start your engines,” the restarts, the wrecks, and the pure adrenaline rush when the cars flew past me were enough to keep my ADD in check for several hours.  Since then I have been to a few more All Star races and even stayed in the infield for a Coca-Cola 600.  I will say that with all that I’m only a part-time race fan.  I have never been to a race that wasn’t in Concord.  I don’t really know all the rules.  I don’t really get into the whole who is better, Ford or Chevy, in fact the only time I care about that is when I’m buying a car, and it’s which one will come down on the sticker price.  Subsequently I drive a Hyundai.  By no means am I a die-hard race fan.

So heading into this past weekend I wasn’t really biased to which sport was going to bring it, I just wanted to be entertained.  With the NBA holding its All Star weekend in Orlando, I wanted to see what they had to offer.  For the most part this NBA season has been entertaining, with the whole Lin-sanity, the Oklahoma City Thunder putting up record-breaking scoring, LeBron James’ MVP caliber first half of the season, and Kobe Bryant trying to close in on some records.  This weekend should have been a layup, if you will, for the NBA.  Instead, it was more like a brick off the front of the rim.  The rising stars game was OK, but it still left something to be desired.  Most guys in the NBA don’t care about a game that will count against their record any random night, so why would they care about one that means absolutely nothing?  The skills competition they walked through, and I hadn’t even heard of any of the players in the dunk contest.  At one point on Saturday night they showed a shot of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the crowd dressed in what I could only describe as nerdy clothes from the late 80’s. It’s one thing when Skrillex dresses like that but another when they do.  My first thought after “why are dressed like that” was “why am I watching these guys I don’t know in the dunk contest while you are in the stands.”  I thought it was supposed to be the All Star weekend, not “supporting player off the bench” weekend.  Needless to say after Saturday I was a little disappointed.

So Sunday I was kind of looking forward to the Daytona 500.  Around noon I went out to grab supplies – beer, some snacks, a couple of boxes of Girl Scout cookies – but mostly beer.  I got back only to watch and see that after several hours of filler interviews and pre-recorded TV time, the race was going to be postponed until noon on Monday, during which I would be at work and couldn’t watch it.  Sunday night didn’t do much better for the NBA.  After watching the player introductions with Niki Minaj in which I think Scott Brooks, the coach of the West team, thought he was being abducted by aliens (and quite frankly so did I), I muddled through the first half until I couldn’t take anymore.

Things changed on Monday sometime around lunch. I found out the race had been postponed again until 7:00 that night.  I actually would get to watch it, and I was excited since the last big event on a Monday, the Monday Night Football game, had basically been blah for sports.  The 500 didn’t disappoint – two laps in Jimmy Johnson spins out, taking out Danica Patrick, NASCAR’s new darling, and about five other people.  From that point on I was sucked in.  Normally on Sundays if I even do watch a race I take a nap during the middle of it and I still pretty much get the gist of what happened.  Monday night it was different, maybe because it was in prime time, maybe because it had been postponed for so long, maybe it was the fact that Fox was playing the same music that they play on football Sundays, but whatever it was I was hooked.  A couple of highlights were the $200,000 prize for winning the half way mark, no other sport has that.  Could you imagine if football or basketball said that whoever is the last to score before halftime gets a $200,000 bonus?  Two-minute drills and half-court jumpers would be off the chain.  I found the fact that Clint Boyer, the driver of the Five Hour Energy Car, ran out of gas to be ironic.  And then, as if all of this wasn’t enough, out of nowhere Juan Pablo Montoya slams into the back of a jet-drying truck while on caution.

This wreck set off a whole series of events that couldn’t even be scripted by WWE writers or screen adapters alike.  The collision caused a giant flame ball, absolutely disintegrating Montoya’s car.  It also damaged the jet truck to where jet fuel is now steadily flowing down the track.  A small flame quickly turned into an eight-foot inferno in what seemed like a really long time before the track emergency crews could contain it.  This obviously slammed the breaks on the race as they had to go under the red flag (for the novices, the red flag means they are stopped) until the fire could be contained and the damage to the track surveyed.  At this point the Fox broadcast did an amazing job of keeping us tuned in, as they explained what was going on, the clean-up (apparently you can clean jet fuel with Tide laundry detergent, who knew?), and whether or not they would be able to continue racing.  During the halt in the action,  Brad Keselowski,  driver of the Miller Lite car, was tweeting from his race car, which for his efforts awarded him with 100,000 followers within a mere two hours.

After nearly an hour and a half they got the track fixed, which I was amazed they could do.  Side note:  I have a new idea for a reality show where people see how bad they can destroy something and see if NASCAR officials can repair it in a two-hour time span with only certain house hold materials.  Think Macgyver meets Dirty Jobs. Yeah?  Anyway, around midnight the flag goes green with 35 laps left to go.  There was no way I could have missed the end of that race, where at the end Matt Kenseth was able to hold off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and teammate Greg Biffle to take home his second checkered flag at the Daytona 500.

For all the odds against the race – the rain, the fire, the late finish – I was far more impressed with it than anything the NBA did all weekend.

I have been getting some emails from readers lately with questions, thoughts, and criticism feel free to keep them coming.  I am going to answer a few in an upcoming mail bag blog. So send to cjohnsonwfnz@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Sports Radio 610 AM WFNZ The Fan.


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