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If NASCAR Can Keep Running Races Like Today's Daytona 500...

For the first time in a while, I actually enjoyed watching every lap of a NASCAR race today.

The Daytona 500 was actually that good. And it needed to be.

NASCAR has in the past few years drifted aimlessly. If you didn’t notice all the empty seats when you occasionally tuned into a race, you definitely noticed the lack of drama or excitement. While it’s true some of that has been caused by bigger names in the sport having retired recently, there was more to it than that.

NASCAR just didn’t put on a very good show the last couple of years. The racing was boring, the prices to attend was too high for its core audience and NASCAR didn’t seem to care. It was becoming like the 50th franchise of a once-tremendous restaurant. The name brought back great memories of the past, but current events seemed a little like people going through the motions.

Add to the fact that it’s not rocket science to figure out what makes for an entertaining show on a race track, and it became all the more frustrating. Older fans stopped paying attention, younger fans weren’t engaging in the first place and there became a growing problem. Great races generally need only three things: close racing in the early stages so someone won’t change the channel or take a nap, some sort of big wreck in the middle that becomes a huge video highlight (as in “hey, did you see that wreck Sunday?”) and then 5 or six cars racing to a photo finish on the last lap.

That’s it. That’s the list. Everything else is gravy.

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Happy Motorhead Thanksgiving, Everybody!

The calendar doesn’t specifically recognize it, but today is Motorhead Thanksgiving, the greatest day of the year for people who love cars and take motorsports seriously.

Even though I’m not that much into cars, for many years there was a yearly ritual in my house on this day. Get up in the morning and get the grill/smoker/whatever you cook on outdoors ready at about 11. Watch the beginning of the Indianapolis 500 for an hour. Go out and finish cooking. Come back in the house, have a meal with your family and see the finish of Indy. Nap. Watch the beginning of the World 600. Nap some more. Wake up and still be able to see the last 3 hours of the World 600 since it seems like it went on forever most years.

The holiday, however, is dying no matter how fancy the commercials shown on TV are for the races. Younger generations in general don’t seem that interested in going to any live sporting events, and the older generations that really supported racing over the years are passing away. Television has saturated the market with too much of a good thing, ticket prices have been raised beyond what demand warrants, and the product itself these days isn’t that good. Turn on any live sporting event these days and you’ll see a lot of empty seats. Turn to a race and you’ll see even more.

I was lucky enough to discover NASCAR racing at just about the time it was making the transition from good ol’ boy, gritty, redneck sport that was rarely on television, to one that was the darling of ESPN and growing faster than any other sport out there. A fight – of all things – at the Daytona 500 that involved Cale Yarborough and brothers Donnie and Bobby Allison (above) seemed to capture a lot of people’s attention in the sport. So naturally when a friend said let’s go to Martinsville Speedway and see one, I was game.

Much like Daytona, we weren’t 5 minutes out of the car before we saw a fight…although this was between fans in the parking lot. What were they fighting about? One said “Ford” and the other said “Chevrolet” and next thing you knew, fists were flying. Once inside in our seats, we met dozens of down-home, salt-of-the-earth people with serious opinions on why Cale Yarborough was a good guy and Darrell Waltrip (who would win the race that day) was not. They were fiercely loyal, and they all cheered, booed, threw chicken bones down at the fence at the base of the racetrack and just appeared to have a heck of a time.

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When No One Wants To Sponsor The Defending Champion...

I have been slowly watching NASCAR die over the last few years, but today served notice as to just how bad things have gotten. Furniture Row Racing – the team that with driver Martin Truex Jr. won the championship in the highest-level series in the sport last year – will shut its doors at the end of the year.

The story here isn’t just a team shutting down. Truex, his crew chief and most of those employed will end up with other teams and probably be just fine next year. No, the story is WHY they are shutting down, and how the lifeblood of the sport is in serious jeopardy.

I’m not your typical racing fan. I’m not a car guy, was raised in Norfolk – technically in the south but because of the Navy base, we had a lot of Yankee influence – and I just didn’t see the point to 500 or more left turns on a hot summer day.

But the newspaper business introduced me to it. I worked at a place in Roanoke and our racing writer happened to be the son of my physics teacher at Lake Taylor High School. His name was Steve Waid and he not only loved the sport, he was a bit of a rock star on the circuit because of the way he covered it. I became intrigued.

A few years later, I became the sports editor of the newspaper in Martinsville. The owner was a character named Clay Earles and the PR director was one of the best on the planet named Dick Thompson. Clay, Dick and Steve all taught me the sport, introduced me to the right people and in a short period of time, I fell in love with it.

For me it had nothing to do with cars. It was the personalities of the drivers and the cult-like loyalty of the fans. Waid had gotten me a couple of tickets when I was working in Roanoke, so a friend and I headed to Martinsville to see a race live. We hadn’t even gotten out of the car for more than a minute and a couple of good ol’ boys were throwing haymakers at each other as if one had insulted the other’s mother.

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In The Blink Of An Eye...

Be Kind

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Never Grow Old...

Modern Design

A trip to Spring Training reminded me we're all still kids at heart, and no matter how old, you keep playing until they get you out.

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