Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

I Miss Dale

I’m a little sad today.

After spending the whole day at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday for the Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races, I realized my real, visceral passion for NASCAR is gone.

I certainly looked for it.

Thought about it all day.

But I just couldn’t find it.

Even sitting in Victory Lane, twice, seeing Tony Stewart and the Home Depot crew and Jeff Gordon and the Dupont crew celebrate their victories, I just didn’t have it. I walked through the garages. I went to see some fans. I was in the pits looking at the crews work at the cars go by. There is no sensation like standing a the end of pit road going into turn one and have the cars coming at you and going by at over 185 mph. But I just didn’t love it like I used to (sounds like a country song).

So why?

I was always attracted to NASCAR as a sport because of the personalities. The drivers, the crew chiefs, the owners, all self-made men interested in their sport. They were interested in racin’. They liked to drive fast. They wanted to beat the other guys.

Every time.

They weren’t happy with second or fifth or a top ten, they wanted to win and they would do just about anything to get there.

Cale, Richard, Dale, Donnie, Bobby, all of them knew each other, knew their strengths and weaknesses, could speak about each other personally and it was real. It seems rather homogenized now. Very corporate. Victory Lane is orchestrated with the “partners” getting their shots while everybody stands around to watch.

Maybe it’s become routine for Gordon and Stewart but even the “Wooo” from their crews while having their picture taken was muted. Stewart and Gordon’s exit from their cars seemed staged. Their answers were very stock, very carefully crafted. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both great drivers and their interviews are full of sound bites we can use for weeks at a time. But there was no excitement to it.

Could NASCAR be losing a part of its core fan base? A quick tour through the infield reveals a lot of expensive RV’s and not a lot of tents and pick up trucks. Fans are more sophisticated, for sure, but NASCAR was built on fans that loved the cars, the drivers, the speed and the track. The smell of burnt rubber and a blown engine. It’s still there in small doses, but the days of the old infield are gone.

I miss Dale.