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Authors: Monte Dutton

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after deciding to compete in just ten races a year

“I’ve lived it. I’ve done it. I like running more on my schedule than having to be there full-time.”

—BILL ELLIOTT

explaining why he decided to cut back

“When I’m an old man, I’m going to bore my grandkids to death with racing stories, and I’ll tell them once a week how I shocked everybody my rookie year by winning the Texas race. They’ll probably be like, ‘You told us that yesterday.’”

—DALE EARNHARDT JR.

D
uring the week after his first Nextel Cup victory, Carl Edwards rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The prospect sent him into what can only be described as a wide-eyed tizzy.

Edwards recalled, “I was like, ‘I’m going to be in Columbia [Missouri, his hometown], and I don’t know how I’ll get there,’ and she [public relations rep Sheri Hermann] said, ‘No, you don’t understand. Scotts is going to fly a private jet to pick you up in Columbia and fly you up there.’ I was like, okay, that sounds great.

“So I told my little brother, Kenny, and he wanted to go. He has one suit and one nice shirt, so he threw that on, and we jumped on the plane and laughed all the way to New York. We were giddy the whole time, just thinking how different things are now from a couple of years ago. We had a limo and got to ring the bell. We got to hang out with members of the stock exchange, and they were all great people. It was unbelievable.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind the right decision was made to award Texas with a second Cup race. The facility is first-class, the fans are great, and they pack the place year after year. I’m a native of North Carolina, and I’ll be the first to say I hate to see races being moved from my home state and other places in the Southeast. But the fact is that we already have a lot of races in the Southeast and some of them don’t fill the grandstands now. Fans can best voice their opinion by purchasing tickets, and that’s what the fans have done in Texas.”

—BRIAN VICKERS

“It’s the same for every track: a good-handling race car.”

—DALE JARRETT

on what it takes to win

“The mayor told me one thing about him being on the city council. There haven’t been nearly as many arguments.”

—BOBBY LABONTE

whose stern father. Bob, is a Trinity, North Carolina, alderman

“The cars are obviously much harder to drive, and it plays right into our drivers’ hands … When you get around other cars, you don’t have as much margin as they had before, and it depends on how hungry you are. If you’re hungry enough, you go get it.”

—team owner

JACK ROUSH

after his drivers won four of the first eight races during the 2005 season

F
ans of both NASCAR and other sports often wonder aloud why the most prestigious event, the Daytona 500, opens each season. The only reason it’s an issue is that other sports hold championships, naturally, at the end of seasons. Stock car racing can’t really be compared to sports like football, baseball, and basketball, though. The means by which championships are decided is completely different in those sports. No one ever complains about the Masters or Wimbledon being contested near the beginning of the year.

The beginning of the NASCAR season finds every team at its peak. New cars have been freshly built and tested. Teams are fresh and rested. The relatively brief off-season gives everyone, including the fans, a chance to recharge and anticipate a new year.

Dale Jarrett said he wondered why anyone would do it any other way. The 2005 Super Bowl was played in Jacksonville, Florida, only a nine-minute drive from Daytona Beach, and it occurred at just about the time all the race teams were converging on the area. Jarrett was one of several NASCAR luminaries who attended the Super Bowl.

“There are a lot of comparisons,” said the three-time Daytona 500 winner and 1999 Cup champion. “I think ours makes a lot of sense in having our biggest event be the first one of the year because everybody is the best prepared. We’ve had the most time to work and get ready for the Daytona 500, and it’s our biggest race.

“I found it kind of amusing to be at the Super Bowl. I don’t know the exact figures of how many people were there, but I would guess it was somewhere close to 100,000 people that actually attended the Super Bowl. We’ve got nearly 200,000 people here at the Daytona 500, and we have thirty-five other races that have [big] crowds, too.”

The average attendance at Nextel Cup events exceeds 160,000.

The honorary starter of the 2005 Daytona 500 was actor Ashton Kutcher. He went into painstaking detail describing the demands of waving the green flag.

“I’m going to wave that flag like it’s never been waved before,” he said. “I started about a month ago on a regimen, stretching my wrist. It’s all in the wrist. I started icing my wrist for a couple hours a day and built a Plexiglas box that I keep it in while I’m sleeping so I don’t roll over on it.

“About a week ago, I started thinking about it, and I started getting really peeved because they didn’t have me wave the checkered flag, which I thought would be more entertaining and fun. Then I realized that when you wave the checkered flag, you only make one person happy. When you wave the green one, you make millions of people happy. It’s a pretty big gig.”

Matthew McConaughey, the grand marshal, didn’t know what to expect when he entered the speedway grounds.

“I had no idea of the size or scope,” he said. “I went to school at the University of Texas at Austin, and we put 90,000 in the seats on Saturdays, and I get here and find out really quickly that this’ll double that.”

“At my age, I enjoy being out of the sun, and the idea of not getting my nose burned and my bald head scalded when we’re having a race going on is a good thing, and racing tonight will mean that I won’t fly home tonight by myself, I’ll spend the night, and that’s probably safer for everybody that’s in the air.”

—JACK ROUSH

explaining why he likes night races

“I’m a big component of night races.”

—GREG BIFFLE

apparently meaning to say “proponent”

“I know one thing: When you’re a driver, and you’re struggling in the car and trying to get your car handling right, you’re looking for God to come out of the sky and give you a magical answer.”

—RUSTY WALLACE

T
he wittiest sportswriter covering NASCAR is undoubtedly the Nashville
Tennessean’s
Larry Woody. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Woody is a master of the one-liner.

During a 2004 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Woody and another writer were commiserating the lack of action.

“This may be the most boring race I’ve ever seen,” Woody observed.

“Well, look at the bright side,” said the other writer. “I just completed my federal income tax.”

Without blinking, Woody replied, “I just taught myself Portuguese.”

Some tracks hold preliminary races sanctioned by the Automobile Racing Club of America, an Ohio-based sanctioning body whose drivers are typically adept at short tracks. Understandably, ARCA races on large, high-banked ovals are often crash-filled.

During one such event, Woody watched a multicar crash from his press-box vantage point.

“ARCA drivers are like mud turtles,” Woody opined. “You can’t hurt ’em.”

“Where are we going next week? Talladega. I’m going to see the ‘8’ car in front of me all day, so they’ll be fine.”

—KURT BUSCH

asked if Dale Earnhardt Jr. “had his act together”

“Whenever he doesn’t run into somebody, I’m almost happy no matter what happens.”

—JACK ROUSH

the success of Carl Edwards

R
ichard Petty once helped organize the Professional Drivers Association, a short-lived organization whose members boycotted a 1969 race in Talladega, Alabama. Petty wasn’t particularly sympathetic, though, thirty-six years later when some driver called for NASCAR to implement a pension plan.

The seven-time champion said today’s drivers earn $1 million by walking from “the bathroom to the car.”

“I used to wonder what I was going to do when I gave up driving,” said the King. “That was when it took me fifteen years to earn my first million dollars. From that standpoint, it looks to me like they need to look out for themselves.”

“Yeah, I mean, regardless of this year or whatever, you get what you give. You party hard, you play hard, and that’s what we do.”

—DALE EARNHARDT JR.

“I don’t see how a driver can allow his crew chief to make all the decisions when the crew chief doesn’t ever drive the car.”

—GREG BIFFLE

T
he late Dale Earnhardt Sr. had a clever way of getting NASCAR’s attention. When Earnhardt was miffed at the ruling body’s officials, he would stroll from his transporter over to NASCAR’s mobile headquarters and begin signing autographs. Within minutes, the area would be awash in fans as word quickly spread that Earnhardt was signing autographs. The influx of humanity quickly disrupted any business being trans-command center.

A
fter suffering several flat tires at a race on the old Riverside, California, road course in the early 1980s, Bobby Allison suggested that rival Darrell Waltrip’s car owner, Junior Johnson, might have had a sharpshooter posted on high ground to shoot out the tires.

When informed of the charge, Johnson drawled, “If I’d had me a gun, I wouldn’t have been shooting at his tires.”

“The good thing about night races is that I get to sleep in in the morning.”

—TONY STEWART

“Me getting by him would have been a stroke of genius.”

—DALE EARNHARDT JR.

after finishing second to Tony Stewart in the 2002 Budweiser Shootout

“NASCAR has proven time and time again that they’re willing to change the rules at for any or no reason … I don’t get about rules anymore because change at anytime.”

—TONY STEWART

F
orget about the orthodox means of comparing sports venues. In NASCAR, those standards don’t apply. A racetrack isn’t a stadium. It doesn’t provide residency to a home team. Comparing the track—or for that matter, the area that surrounds it—to a stadium, or a coliseum, or a park isn’t just comparing apples to oranges. It’s apples to pumpkins. Or horses. Or rivers.

It’s not unusual for these races to draw fans from all over the country, not to mention the next country. A lady in the ticket office said Martinsville Speedway drew fans from “all fifty states.”

Undoubtedly the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees occasionally draw fans from, say, Jamaica, but there probably aren’t any individual games that include fans from all fifty states. In fact, the Cowboys and Yankees seldom play games in front of fans from more than fifteen or twenty states.

People don’t make road trips to NASCAR races. They make pilgrimages.

“I know Cup is bigger, but that’s a joke.”

—Busch Series driver

RANDY LAJOIE

noting that the winner of the series’s Daytona race earned less than the last-place finisher in the Daytona 500

W
hen Ricky Rudd first drove at Martinsville Speedway, in 1975, he was called on in relief of veteran driver Bill Champion, then in the twilight of his career. Rudd had raced on a couple of the longer tracks but had come just to watch the race when Champion sent word that he needed someone to finish for him.

Rudd, who got his start in go-karts, had never driven a stock car on a short track. Any short track.

“I never had so many fists shaken at me in one day in my life,” he recalled. “That was a very memorable experience. It’s what I remember about my first Martinsville race. That probably wouldn’t be allowed to happen today, I guess.”

“The playing field has never been level, and it sure ain’t this time … NASCAR looks at it different than racers. NASCAR looks at it like a show: ‘We need to throw the checkered flag at the end of five hundred miles, and forty-three cars need to be running side by side’ … We want to try to get the edge … This year they’ve been jacking around with the rules like they do every year. It’s going to be good for somebody, and it’s going to hurt somebody. There’s no way of making it even all the way through.”

—seven-time Winston Cup champion

RICHARD PETTY

“Darlington is like Rockingham, only with no place to go.”

—JOHN ANDRETTI

I
n racing, variety is truly the spice of life.

It’s great that every track isn’t just like Michigan, even though a bunch of them are. Oh, some of them are two miles and some are one and a half, but it greatly detracts from the appreciation of Michigan that it’s so similar to California, which is similar to Las Vegas, Kansas City, and Chicagoland. Chicagoland, of course, is that wondrous term that includes Joliet, Illinois, which is only slightly less dissimilar to Chicago than Hooterville.

Then there’s the “Bruton clone,” Charlotte, which is much like Atlanta and Texas. Once upon a time, Atlanta was unique in that it was a “true oval” (not to be confused with a “true freshman”) with wide, sweeping turns. The turns are still there, but now they’re accompanied by Mr. Smith’s truncated tri-oval, which he prefers to call a “quad oval,” which makes about as much sense as calling Joliet “Chicagoland.”

But they haven’t quite stomped, battered, and pum-meled all the variety out of NASCAR … yet.

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