Keeping Pace

What If NASCAR’s Legends Return to Racing?

Mark Martin celebrates in Victory Lane for the first time in 97 starts. His last win was at Kansas Speedway in October 2005. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Jerry Markland / The Spokesman-Review)
Mark Martin celebrates in Victory Lane for the first time in 97 starts. His last win was at Kansas Speedway in October 2005. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Jerry Markland / The Spokesman-Review)

My most recent dose of racing perspective came to us courtesy of the NFL. Here’s what happened.

Guest Column By Cathy Elliott

The occasional verbal spasms of silliness from other sports sometimes serve to remind me of one of NASCAR’s very best traits: Loyalty.

My car has been in the shop recently so I haven’t had access to NASCAR Radio, which is pretty much the only channel I ever listen to. That’s probably because I’m afraid someone will say my name on the radio and I might miss it. I’m so inherently uncool that I still get excited about stuff like that.

My most recent dose of racing perspective came to us courtesy of the NFL. Here’s what happened.

I was on the way to work, listening to the morning show on the local ESPN Radio affiliate, when doggone if I didn’t hear a familiar sound -- the voice of Fran Tarkenton.

Tarkenton, also known as “Frantic Fran,” is a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback who played for the New York Giants and spent some time as a broadcaster on Monday Night Football, but is best known for his years with the Minnesota Vikings.

Another famous quarterback, Brett Favre, is now rumored to be giving serious consideration to donning the Viking yellow and purple and hitting the gridiron for “just one more” season. This after a much ballyhooed retirement from the Green Bay Packers, where he was basically a franchise player, followed by a very public change of heart.

Some pushback from the Packers, however, sent Favre to the New York Jets. He did OK until shoulder pain adversely affected his performance in the second half of the season. In May 2009, he asked for and was granted a release from the Jets, freeing him to sign with any team.

Since this isn’t a football column, here’s the bottom line. Tarkenton disapproves of Favre’s annual “will he or won’t he” carousel routine. “I think it’s despicable,” he said. “ ... I kind of hope it happens, so he can fail.”

This is the point where we circle back around to NASCAR. Because I’m guessing -- no, I take that back, I KNOW -- that if one or more of our greatest drivers, the guys that have brought as much enjoyment to fans and had as much success in NASCAR as Brett Favre has in football, were to announce that they were coming back for another season, random parades would break out all across America and new caps and T-shirts would be available on the Internet in a matter of hours.

The very best example that comes to mind right now is Mark Martin, who announced his retirement, then modified it to semi-retirement, then came back to race fulltime, to find his way back to Victory Lane, and to be in contention for a championship in 2009. What a story.

I absolutely have the courage of my convictions on this one. Imagine a scenario where someone like Rusty Wallace or Dale Jarrett decided to mount a comeback effort, thinking they weren’t quite done yet, after all.

Can you picture Cale Yarborough describing their actions as “despicable?” Would he go on record as saying, “I kind of hope it happens, so they can fail?”

Hardly. Most likely, Yarborough would be on the phone looking for sponsors so he could be the next guy in line for a ride, with David Pearson and Ernie Irvan in hot pursuit.

These drivers would receive standing ovations at every racetrack in America. Their souvenir sales would go through the roof. They would be rock stars. Like misty-eyed yuppies at a James Taylor concert, all of us would be grateful for “just one more.”

Would other drivers be as competitive in their “later years” as Martin has proven to be? Probably not, but I don’t believe this to be a competition issue. I feel it’s more about respect.

And it isn’t exclusive to sports. I haven’t a clue in the world why guys like Wayne Newton and Neil Diamond are still hauling on the spandex and singing their hearts out, but they still play to sold-out houses. Bono, Rob Thomas and Chris Daughtry certainly don’t seem to begrudge them for it.

Even if they are no longer able to win it, they have earned their right to stay in the game.

NASCAR staunchly supports its past while steadily advancing into its future. There’s a reason why Dale Earnhardt, Sr. still sells more merchandise than some of the current young Cup Series drivers do. Stars may wane, or fade away completely, but our admiration and appreciation for them never goes away. Always, we can see that glimmer of their brilliance still shining, from the corners of our eyes.

Cale Yarborough, by the way, retired before I became a NASCAR fan. I never got to see him race. If he, or Wallace, or Jarrett or whoever else, decided to give it another go, it would be amazing.

To paraphrase the appropriately nicknamed Mr. Tarkenton, whose opinions are indeed a bit frantic for my taste -- I kind of hope it happens. I’d love to seem them succeed.




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Keeping Pace

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







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