The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports

Can You Hear the Thunder?

former Daytona 500 winners and champions

Can You Hear the Thunder?

BY Chris Stevens

@CtsRacing78 

Dale Earnhardt is heading into turn 3 leading Derick Cope, Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott as he suddenly loses a tire and drifts up the track, giving everything he had wasn’t enough as the day ­glow orange Chevy Lumina of Cope pulls off one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history in the Daytona 500. Treavor Bayne pulling the legendary 21 of the Wood Brothers into Victory Lane in 2011 for his first ever win in the Great American Race, joining Wood Brothers Alumni Tiny Lund, David Pearson, A.J. Foyt and Cale Yarborough. After years and years of trying 1998 was finally Dale Earnhardt’s time to shine as he pulls down pit road almost every pit crew member from every team lines the way to Victory Lane as the Intimidator suddenly pulls his black GM Goodwrench Monte­ Carlo out into the grass and does donuts. In 2001, Dale lost his life in what seemed to be an ordinary crash that he would shake off and join his team in Victory Lane. That was NASCAR’s darkest day.

From triumph to tragedy the Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of racing, it is the crown jewel of NASCAR. Drivers can have wins on any other track and Championships but they would trade them all for a win in the 500. Once you win there, you cement your name with the legends – Petty, Yarbourgh, Pearson, Gordon, Jarret, Johnson, Roberts and so many more. It is about this time every year race fans begin hearing the distant sounds of thunder.Maybe it’s a bad case of cabin fever or just wishful thinking but they haven’t seen their heroes on track since mid-November and the smells of racing fuel and burnt tires have worn off and the hunger for horsepower begins to drive them mad. It’s this time of year that this race fan remembers all of the wins, the spins and almost made it memories of past 500’s…like the announcer on TV shouting those most infamous words in 79 “and there’s a fight” when the Allison Brothers and Cale Yarborough scuffled in the infield while the King went on to capture one of his 7 Daytona 500 trophies. Fans remember Darrell Waltrip proving white people can’t dance as he attempted the Icky shuffle in Victory Lane. When Davey Allison finished second to his Hall of Fame father Bobby it was a very special moment. Soon after that event, Bobby’s career ended in Pocono after a hard crash. Davey went on to win the 500 but was killed in a helicopter crash which caused a rush of memories from the good times we shared with the young driver and seeing him smile as he held his children in Victory Lane.

The 500 holds a roller coaster of emotions even for the drivers – grown men weep at times when they conquer the track. Pre-­season testing helps prepare the teams for the big race and gets the excitement building for the fans. All of the accomplishments of last season are wiped clean and the teams bring their big guns to the track to show off, intimidate or sometimes fool the competition. It was an annual tradition to head south and see who could post the big numbers on the speed charts. It is a period where new teams, new drivers, and new crew chiefs to see what they had to work with. The teams built these cars special for just this race, as they bring one car for the Shoot­-out that they really don’t plan on bringing back to the track again because of the checkers or wreckers mentality of the race. They have their 500 car after the Shoot-out which was massaged by the guys in the body shop to get every thousandth of a second of speed out of it. The sponsor’s logos are painted on instead of using decals to save on air resistance. This is the one car at the shop that gets the most attention. This car will set the stage and the tone for the rest of the year.

If the team performs well it could lead to a Chase berth or if it performs poorly it means the team will start the season in a hole that is hard to climb out of, potentially costing the teams millions of dollars. NASCAR isn’t like most sports that have their biggest event at the end of the season…they have it on day one – go big or go home.

So as the excitement of 2016 rumbles in the distance as the teams are meticulously building the cars for February, listen for the thunder, listen to past storms already gone over the horizon, listen for Petty, Pearson, Foyt, listen to those big block Fords of Fred Lorenzen and Fireball Roberts barreling down the back stretch and into history….

…can you hear it yet?

[Photo: Sporting News]

Follow Chris Stevens on @CtsRacing78 Twitter for updates on all things motor sports and entertainment.

Can You Hear the Thunder?
Copyright MRN Broadcasting & The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports

Can You Hear the Thunder?

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