Like most NASCAR
fans, I can remember the very first race I ever watched. It was the final race of the 1993 Winston Cup season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The championship had come down to the final laps of the race between Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt.
Rusty won the race, but Dale finished well enough to win the championship by 80 points.
Earlier that year, NASCAR had lost two of it’s brightest stars, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki. When the race was over, the two drivers that had spent the last 328 laps fighting each other for every last point took the track for a Polish Victory Lap, which is a backwards victory lap, made famous by Alan Kulwicki, who had won the Winston Cup Championship the year before as an Owner/Driver. Something that is almost unheard of in today’s NASCAR.
As Rusty and Dale ran the Polish Victory Lap, they each flew a flag out their windows. Dale was flying a #7 flag for Kulwicki, and Rusty was waving a #28 flag for Allison. That was the day I became a NASCAR fan.
At that time, you were either a Dale Earnheardt fan or a Rusty Wallace fan, but not both. That day, I chose Rusty, but still had respect for Dale’s talent. In 1998, I was thrilled to see Dale win the Daytona 500 after 20 years of trying. He earned it.
Just 8 years after Rusty and Dale paid tribute to their lost friends, and 3 short years after he won the Daytona 500, the race would take the life of Dale Earnhardt. Later that year, at California, Rusty Wallace would pay tribute to Earnhardt in the same way the two did for Allison and Kulwicki.
You don’t see stuff like this much in today’s NASCAR. There are moments, like Dale Earnhardt Jr. paying tribute, along side teammate Michael Waltrip, in 2001 at Daytona, just a few months after his father was killed at the track. The first race at Atlanta where Kevin Harvick took over the Goodwrench Chevy for Earnhardt, he paid tribute after he won that race. He knew then what happened to put him in the seat of that car, but I don’t think he does anymore.
One thing you see more of in today’s NASCAR is money. Not totally a bad thing, but it has changed the sport, and will continue to do so. Winston wasn’t making enough money sponsoring the Cup Series due to restrictions being put on tobacco companies, so they left, and Nextel came in. That was the start of the downfall of “Old School NASCAR.”
Soon after, came the Chase For The Cup. It adds drama, yes, but takes away from what it took to become a NASCAR Champion.
I think one of the biggest mistakes done in recent years, though, was puting Brian France in charge. Yes, he’s a France. His grandfather started NASCAR. But, I feel, he looks more at the money side of the sport, than the sport itself.
Proof of these changes affecting the sport can be seen in the drivers retiring. Rusty Wallace, in my opinion, may have stuck around for a few more years if NASCAR was closer to the sport he knew. Guys like Ricky Rudd may have stuck around a bit longer as well. And Mark Martin. He’s only in the sport now because his long time friend, and team owner, Jack Roush, needs him. He’s the same man that has won so many races, and has many more wins in him, but it’s the sport that has changed.
In the end, NASCAR will make many more changes, and with each change, lose more fans. But their will be new fans there to replace them. I am still a NASCAR fan, and I’m sure I will be for some time to come. But, there will be a time when I stop watching, if it continues the way it has.