December 4, 2011
By Jim Fitzgerald
Here it is -- another off-season. The 2011 NASCAR season is in the books.
A Champion has been crowned and checks have been given out. Moves have been made and paint schemes for the 2012 season have been unveiled.
For the most part, all questions, save for a few, have been answered. As I ponder the end of one season and look forward to the beginning of the next, which seems to be years away at this point, I think about all we saw this year, and how the ground work for a very good season was laid in the first race of the year, when a young racer that many could not pick out of a line up, won the biggest race of the year. I think about that young kid, who is not much older than I was when I was first introduced to NASCAR.
If you’re new to the sport of NASCAR, you can probably pinpoint the exact event in the last few years that really sunk its teeth into your psyche, and made you a NASCAR fan. Maybe it was this year, maybe last year -- maybe some time a few years back.
If you’re an “old school” fan, a term I like to use to describe myself because I find myself saying “I remember when it used to be…”. If you are indeed “old school,” or older school, or perhaps you call yourself an alumnus of the oldest school, you may or may not remember how you became a NASCAR fan.
Did you catch the five minutes they would broadcast every now and then on Wide World of Sports? Did the local news bring you into it by giving you a highlight? Or, was it a person who got you involved?
For me, the question is easy to answer. One weekend while visiting my father, Jim Fitzgerald the Senior, at his house in Virginia, he showed me a copy of Winston Cup Illustrated. It was the Championship edition from 1988, when Bill Elliott triumphed over Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt. It went through the entire season, race by race, and showed the final point standings as well as a picture of all the drivers. Dad showed me the picture of Elliott, still a little Howdy Doody-esque, and said “he’s good, but he just looks a little wimpy. Now, this guy here, he is Rusty Wallace!”
Okay, so honestly, Rusty Wallace, with a big red afro and a silly grin, did not look like much more of a macho man than Bill Elliott, but what did I know? So, anyway, I took the book home with me and paged through it a little bit here and there, but my eye was still on IndyCar at the time. I loved the speed, the hum of the engines, and to me, there was no one better than Michael Andretti. If they bumped into each other, the cars fell apart, but it was cool.
I gave the book back and was like “Ehhh.”
I vaguely remember being at my father’s house at a later date. They were going over to the neighbor’s house to watch the NASCAR race. Okay, I will give it a shot. It was North Wilkesboro. I was thinking to myself, why are they going so slow? I never gave it a chance. When two o’clock rolled around, I said, “Okay, I’m going back home to watch some real racing.” I exited to a chorus or mild boos.
I went back into my dad’s house, turned on the television and…no Indy race…nowhere. Not on at all. $%#&! So, what do I do now? I couldn’t go back over to the neighbor’s house with my tail between my legs. So I stayed there and watched something else…I can’t even remember what.
And then I was at my father’s house again, and I know it was in 1989. And it was in July. It must have been in July. I know this now because it was the Pepsi 400 in Daytona. This had my eye a little more, because they were going faster! I watched this car with a star on the hood come back from a lap down twice. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the race was over, and I missed the end of it. I remember talking to my dad on the phone and asking him who won. He said “Davey Allison.” I said, “The Texaco guy?” Dad confirmed, and I remember thinking to myself, good for him…he came back from being a lap down twice to win the race. He deserved to win.
And then, it was a Sunday in April. They called this place Bristol. Small. Fast. Crash-filled….too many crashes. They actually stopped the race for rain. That Allison guy, he got out of his car and was talking to some guy with a microphone, something about donuts and some other guy named Waltrip. And before they could go back to green flag racing, I had to leave to go home. I found out by phone again that Davey Allison had won again. That guy must be good.
And then Days of Thunder came out. I did enjoy me a good Tom Cruise movie, and I had seen three races, so I knew what was going on, right? Saw the movie three times in the theater. There was a small part for Rusty Wallace…hey, I know him. I also knew Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride. And then, that August, I went to live with my dad for a month. I worked at the Texaco about two miles away from his house. I worked almost every day, so I didn’t see any races, but the star on my shirt was more than a company logo. If I had to choose a guy, it was going to be that Texaco guy. I bought the year ending Winston Cup Illustrated again, and not only did I read it, I studied it, and knew it cover to cover.
And then I just happened to be watching CBS in Early February on 1991. Coming up next, the Daytona 500. I popped a tape in the old VCR and hit record. I also watched the race. After I watched the race that Dale Earnhardt dominated, Davey Allison challenged, and Ernie Irvan won while driving no faster than sixty miles per hour, I watched it again. And I watched it several times over the next few months. I watched every race I could that year, but there were only a few -- as we didn’t have cable tv. But I watched Daytona, Michigan, Talladega, and I should have been able to watch Atlanta, but it was rain delayed. Then I got a phone call from my dad in September. “Son, we have an extra ticket for Dover. Would you like to go to a race?” F’n-A, Pops!
And then 1992 came….I was working full time, and by the time the circuit hit Darlington, I made sure we had Cable TV. The rest, as they say, is history, and some of the most thrilling sports events I have seen would have been missed if it weren’t for my dad telling me about it back in 1988.
So, it was my dad who got me involved in it, and who took me to my first race. But who got him involved in it? While this is purely speculation on my part, I think it might have been the neighbor, Tom.
Tom got involved in it from…well, he was involved in it because at one time he WAS INVOLVED IN IT. I thought my dad knew a lot about cars -- I think Tom could have built one from the ground up, and maybe he had.
But now on the other end of the Fan-ily Tree, the list of people I have introduced to it is fairly respectable. I spread the word. I grow the sport. That’s how I roll. The list would include my wife. It would also include my brother from another mother, Nate, and then by association, Nate’s wife Stacy. My list would also include my sister, although my dad could probably take some credit for that as well, and by association through my sister, my brother in law. How about two old bosses, three co-workers, and maybe even my mom? She asks me who won, anyway!
So, who introduced you to NASCAR? Who helped make you a fan? To whom do you owe your undying gratitude? If you did not just stumble upon the sport on your own, you should give thanks to the person who gave you your first taste of NASCAR racing, because if it were not for them, you would have missed the classic 2011 season we all just witnessed.
So, Dad…Thank you, sir, I love ya! (But you are still not getting my Bud Light)
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.
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