Wednesday, February 19, 2003

In the end, fans got robbed at Daytona 500

The Tennessean

There was low drama being played out during the Daytona 272.5. The Fox network was overdosing on promos.

OK, OK, I'll watch the 300th episode of "The Simpsons." Leave me alone.

In the garage area, Michael Waltrip was doing a rain dance. Waltrip would see his prayers answered, but he was in the minority.

When a second round of liquid sunshine splattered NASCAR's crown jewel, the crowd was told it could go home.

Go home? It was over? No rain checks?

Was that baseball commissioner Bud Selig we saw huddling with the France family just before the announcement?

It left a black eye on the race widely known as the Daytona 500 and often referred to as NASCAR's Super Bowl.


The NFL doesn't stop the Super Bowl at halftime.

The Super Bowl is the final game of the season, with a series of playoff games leading up to the grand finale. It builds to a climax.

NBA Finals are what the name suggests. The NHL season concludes with the Stanley Cup. Baseball has the World Series.

NASCAR has it backward.

Mind you, Daytona Beach in February is not a tropical paradise. The weather is always iffy at this time of year. It can be 75 degrees one day, rainy and 45 degrees two days later. Working there in the 1970s, I once saw it snowing in February as I drove from Daytona Beach to DeLand for a college basketball game.

Why not move the Daytona 500 to the end of the schedule? Save the best for last. Imagine the racing if the points championship was on the line.

If they don't want to break tradition, and the Frances show little inclination to abdicate the throne, then at least finish the Daytona 500 the following day.

Then it would be up to the fans who fork over their hard-earned money as to whether to stay another day. Many of them take a week's vacation, or longer, to attend Speed Weeks. I guarantee you a head count would reveal the vast majority of them would have rather returned to the track Monday to see the race to its completion than start driving home tired, wet and short-changed.

NASCAR's popularity has exploded in recent years. You would no longer see a Louise Smith racing and fighting side by side with the men from track to track. You won't find a re-enactment of the Allisons swinging helmets at Cale Yarbrough on the grass between turns 3 and 4 after they wrecked at full throttle.

There is no Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, no Henry "Smokey" Yunick cutting corners as he perfected engines down at the foot of the Seabreeze Bridge, home of the "Best Damn Garage In Town."

Those two pioneers are dead now, leaving behind memories of racing's roots.

NASCAR's gone corporate. Private skyboxes. Catered meals.

They still owe it to the fans to finish the race.

It's the least they can do.

The old timers would have headed to a beachside bar until the rain stopped. Then, gone back racin' until the checkered flag flew.

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