Yes, Sunday was all mine. Just me in front of the TV watching the world’s greatest racing event – the so-called Great American Race. The Super Bowl of racing. The best of them all. The Daytona 500.
Ah yes, nothing like some closed-wheel stockcar racing. Burning fossil fuels for Americans’ endless desire for top speed action and drama. This was sport at its greatest and I dedicated a bluebird San Juan Mountain Sunday to nothing but southern racetrack action. Hell, even Telluride’s own Tom Cruise decided to take a day off of Misty Maiden for the race.
Yes, the country was ready. It had been almost three months since the last Sprint Cup race and the Daytona 500 marked a new beginning. A new beginning for those of us who can’t quite watch basketball and hockey every evening, but need something else to fill the football void.
It was a new beginning for me and my Sunday tradition of sitting in front of the TV gorging myself with suds and junk food. Now I had a reason. Yes, this was going to be my season as a NASCAR junkie. Screw it, if you can’t beat ’em join ’em, I thought, and opened my first Busch beer at 10:30 a.m.
So there I was reading the Sunday paper and waiting for those four great words that start the race. The TV guide did say that the race started at noon right? Waiting. Driver interviews. A striking performance by Keith Urban that took my breath away. A long-winded cartoon produced by the great heads at FOX starring Digger the ground-cam gopher. (Give me a break FOX, I actually lost intelligence with that one!)
Now it should be said that this wasn’t the first time I’d aligned myself with the NASCAR nation. Sometime in my middle school years my parents, while on a Disney vacation to Orlando, took my sister and me to a NASCAR race at Daytona. The sounds, fumes and 200,000 people immediately addicted my adolescent mind. Seriously, I could never watch a single minute of racing on TV until that day when I saw a race up close and in person. I became an instant fan. I spent a good part of the mid 90s in front of a TV watching races and a burnt-out VHS tape of Days of Thunder.
College changed all that. Sure, a race was the perfect way to ease off a weekend of partying, but it was no cure for the hangover as it required even more drinking. Also, the hip granola-eating girls we were all chasing at the time certainly wouldn’t be seen with a guy known for watching complete NASCAR races. Sex was definitely more important than NASCAR, and I gave up the sport with little reluctance.
But last Sunday I returned to the track, and waited and waited and waited for the damn race to start. Shit, I thought, as I crushed my fourth Busch, I had better pace myself. This race is 200 laps and it hasn’t even started yet.
I began to feel some regret about the choice I had made for my Sunday. Maybe it wasn’t too late to make something of the day. Grab the fly rod and head over to the Uncompahgre for an afternoon of fishing? Or even a bike ride through town?
Then Florida’s tanned governor spoke those four magic words – “Gentleman, start your engines.” – and my heart was once again racing, yearning for high-speed action. I was so psyched that I sprinted to the basement to dig out my old Ford Valvoline #6 Mark Martin T-shirt. Now 10 beers deep and sporting a slightly snug yet somehow satisfying old shirt, I was ready. Start the race.
The first lap was great. Nothing but thunder. Fifty laps down. My man Martin, who had never won the 500, was in the pack. Not a real leader, but nevertheless making a strong run. One hundred laps, Busch beer number 13 and a couple of wrecks… things were going good.
A big wreck. Three more beers. Announcers forecast the threat of rain. Twelve greasy wings. Two more beers. Martin was still running strong and making adjustments on his car. Maybe this would be our year? I return to the sport and he wins the race.
Another yellow flag. More rain. Then a red flag and the cars were stopped with 48 laps still to go. Officials said they would wait out the rain and resume the race. Martin said his car was great and that he believed he would win the race after the restart. I was still gleeful, swaying with glossy-eyed excitement.
A trip to the cooler. Just one more Busch. How about a large cheese pizza?
“And Matt Kenseth has won the Daytona 500,” said the announcer. They had called the race on account of the rain. My dream of watching Martin make a last lap run to win the race was shattered.
The sun began to set on that beautiful Sunday, my day wasted. All that hype and no sprint to the finish. This wasn’t the Great American Race I had been anticipating, and it wasn’t anything near the Super Bowl. There I sat slouched deep in my couch, eight pounds heavier with a gruesome 18-beer buzz and sweating in a tight and faded T-shirt. No self-esteem. Another NASCAR season lost.