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Keeping Pace

Fri., June 19, 2009, 5:15 p.m.

NASCAR Is Simply, Uh… Awesome

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

Guest columnist Cathy Elliott feels that the sport is in her words "awesome" even on a weekend like this where the teams are handling a road course versus the usual turn left enviroment.

Guest Column By Cathy Elliott

Courtesy: NASCAR

Like different types of music, conversations can have a distinctive rhythm.

I learned this from experience. In any given conversation, the moment the other person knows you have an affiliation with NASCAR, the same two things invariably happen.

First comes the driver question. There’s a small amount of wiggle room on this one, but ninety-nine percent of the time this blank is filled in with, “Have you met Dale Jr.?”

The next level in this two-step process has a bit more verbal Spandex; it stretches to fit the speaker’s dimensions. Most often, it’s a suggestion. You know that one’s coming, because it’s always prefaced by the query, “You know what NASCAR needs to do?”

I don’t, actually, but folks don’t mind one bit helping me out with that lack of knowledge. NASCAR apparently should remove all road courses from the schedule, do away with the top 35 qualifying system, throw all the restrictor plates into a box and sell them off for scrap metal, and ban Kyle Busch from racing. In any series. Ever.

There is something to be said for consistency. If you approach it properly, it can turn anyone, regardless of age or gender, into a Boy Scout. You’re always prepared.

The problem with thinking that you’re “always” anything, though, is that you never are. So a couple of days ago, when someone asked me, “You know what NASCAR needs to do?” I readied my defense of road course racing and said, “Nope. Tell me.”

“You need to get a new word,” he said. “The only word you NASCAR people ever use is ‘awesome.’ Every Victory Lane, the driver talks about the awesome race, the awesome job the crew did, the awesome sponsors, the awesome fans. It’s too much. I can’t stand it anymore. Awesome, awesome, awesome. You have a thesaurus, don’t you?”

This gave me pause. Let’s face it; we’ve all known people who use the same word or catchphrase repeatedly, and it can drive you a little bonkers after you’ve heard it for about the 3,000th time.

But then I started thinking about NASCAR. I thought about inspiration and innovation, and about how one man’s vision brought the excitement of fast cars from back roads to the forefront of American sports. That’s pretty awesome.

I thought about the Winston Million bonus program from the 1980s. Hercules himself might not have been up to the task of winning three out of the four of the most prestigious events in NASCAR in a single season. But Bill Elliott was so well-suited for that challenge, and so well loved by fans, that it actually gave him a second nickname. “Million-Dollar Bill” was added to the previous “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.”

By the time 1998 rolled around, some had given up hope that Dale Earnhardt would ever win the one race that had eluded him for so long – the Daytona 500. “The Intimidator,” however, never gave up. When he won that race, in NASCAR’s 50th season, perhaps the greatest driver in history was practically jumping up and down like a kid in Victory Lane. Every member of every crew came to the edge of pit road to congratulate him. It was an awesome sight.

When one of NASCAR’s most popular and successful drivers, Cale Yarborough, won three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, he made history. Folks said it could never happen again. Racing is too competitive now, they said. The cars are too equal. No one can dominate like that these days.

Sentiments like those made the moment last December – when Jimmie Johnson was being honored for winning his third consecutive title, and Yarborough came on stage to present him with the championship ring – particularly awesome.

Is there really a better adjective that NASCAR needs to adopt? I followed that advice and got out the thesaurus.

“Good” or “great” certainly won’t cut it, so I tossed those immediately. Can you hear the following victory lane comments?

Matt Kenseth: “I just really want to thank the fans. They’re grand.”

Tony Stewart: “The Office Depot Chevy was breathtaking today.”

Carl Edwards: “I can’t say enough about the Aflac crew. They’re majestic.”

No? Me, either.

I guess when you find the perfect, most appropriate word to describe something, nothing else will do. NASCAR appears to have accomplished this.

How awesome is that?




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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.