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Scratching a Niche: Dale Earnhardt and why one man learned to respect NASCAR

Posted by: Michael Rand under Sports Updated: February 17, 2011 - 12:29 PM

Welcome to this week's edition of Scratching A Niche, where commenter Newbie takes a spin through some of the sports we don't always sometimes ever cover. Newbie?


Why I like NASCAR: Stay with me here edition.

This weekend is the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.  Sunday; Noon on FOX.  I know NASCAR is not popular 'round these parts, but I wanted to take a moment to tell the story of why I watch the Daytona 500 every year. 
The first NASCAR race I remember watching was the 2001 Daytona 500.  It was the first NASCAR race on FOX and I had some homework I was avoiding.  Yet something compelled me to watch it that day.  I remember bits and pieces.  I remember Dale Earnhardt giving the finger to Kurt Busch.  I don't remember why, but I remember smiling.  I remember the big wreck on the back stretch that flipped Tony Stewart's car into the air as a 185 mph freight train, of 40 other cars, screamed beneath him bouncing his car around like a plastic bag in the wind.  I remember Tony walking away, unscathed.  I remember everytime they showed Dale Earnhardt, he was a noticeably different driver than everyone else.  Even at that time, it felt like he transcended the sport.  I remember the final turn as Dale Earnhardt's black #3 car was bumped and shot up the track and in to the wall.  I remember thinking it was no big deal compared to the last one we saw, and then moving on with my day.  I remember watching the news later in the evening and hearing Dale Earnhardt had been killed, in a crash that millions of people saw.
For the rest of that season I watched every single race -- wondering if I would have done so had the sports most influential figure not been killed?  I doubt it.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of that fateful day, and just like they did during every race of the 2001 season, they will mark lap 3 with silence. I'm not a gearhead or a redneck; I have all my original teeth and I am sure my wife is not my cousin.  I don't get offended by people who don't care for NASCAR and can crack jokes at its, and my, expense.  In fact, I don't watch very many races these days.  If I do, I flip back and forth between the race and the Twins or something else.  But every year I make an effort to watch the Daytona 500, because something compelled me to watch that race on that day, when I had exhibited no interest in auto racing up until that point.  So, while I prefer sports like baseball and football, NASCAR will always have my respect.
If you feel the need to make easy jokes about a sport where cars go in circles and just turn left, I understand.  I am not a fanatic about the sport.  I'm just a guy that found a connection with NASCAR in a way that was unique.  And much like my connection with the Twins and Vikings, no matter how bad they are or inept they are, I will always support them through the bond that sports provide.  Just because I may not enjoy a sport or activity; I do not believe in putting it down because I know there are many out there that may enjoy it.
Untrue, Unresearched, and Possibly Incendiary Slurs Against Various Niche Sports - RPS Edition
No, No, NO!  You are not a sport.  Stop it!  You are a game.  A kids' game.  What are they gonna come up with next a pick-up sticks tournament?  Oh, dear lord.  Really? 

What to watch this weekend:

I don't know.  I'm still a little shaken up from the jacks and pick-up sticks tournament thing.  I suggest this, watch The Godfather, then The Wizard of Oz, then The Godfather II.  I guarantee it will truly mess with your mind. 

I promise this feature is not going to be dominated by NASCAR; this is the main race I watch and if something major happens throughout the year I will throw it in.  But please feel free to make any other comments or suggestions.


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