Actually, the full quote, from the William Shakespeare play, “Julius Caesar”, Act 1, Scene Two, is “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves”. Good old Cassius was trying to talk Brutus into joining the plot to kill Julius Caesar rather than allow Julius to become the big man in Rome. Unlike The Bopper and his introduction into society with Brie Cheese, I think most of us read, if only forced to do so by sadistic high school teachers, the Shakespeare work pertaining to old Julius.
This quote from the Bard came to mind Saturday night as I was watching the Cup race from Kentucky. I had watched the Nationwide race on Friday night on that rough track and was enjoying the Cup race as well. It occurred to me, as the last laps were winding down and Bad Brad was catching good old Kyle Busch, that my real problem with racing these days may not be all the fault of NASCAR but somewhat my fault. Note, I did not blame it on the stars, I am clearly stating, “my fault”. Why this has never occurred to me prior to Saturday night, I’m not sure, but I can assume that I was more interested in placing the blame at the feet of NASCAR than I was in assuming any of the responsibility. In essence, this is my revelation from Saturday night.
Once upon a time, I was a rabid fan. I could not wait to go to the next race, be a part of the crowd, hang with the drivers, and watch every lap from the infield fence or the top of my parents’ motor home. The period between the end of one racing season, usually in November, until the Daytona 500 was misery for me. I lived to be at the race track. I lived for the roar of the engines, the smell of the tires, the fuel, and yes, even the race cars had a particular smell about them that was like the finest perfume to me. From the half-mile dirt tracks, to the high banks of Daytona and then Talladega, wherever there was a race the chances are pretty good the Leeming contingent would be in the infield. And believe me, we carried quite a crowd with us on most trips, anywhere from 12 to 30. And that didn’t count the number of friends who also camped in the infield with whom we had regular get-togethers every race weekend. It was a nomadic way of life in some respects, but it was a life filled with travel, adventure, excitement, and great racing. It was everything I needed to keep me occupied.
So, what has changed? Well, in the days of which I just spoke, my fortune rose and fell with the outcome of MY favorite driver, Richard Petty. If Richard had a good race, we were good until the next one. If he didn’t win, that meant I had to bear MY version of the Petty smile until the next event. Fortunately for me, Richard won many, many races so I was usually a pretty happy camper.
Today, the top of the motor home has been replaced by a recliner in my den and interrupted by commercial after commercial attempting to sell me some product for which I have no real use, or if I do, I’ve already bought it. Once upon a time, if a product supported racing, it was likely in my house, my car, or my workshop/shed. About the only left over from those days is the Maxwell House Coffee which used to sponsor Sterling Marlin. Yep, I still drink that every morning. Time was when I bought STP by the case. If it had moving parts, STP was in it or on it. It has been a long, long time since I’ve bought some STP but I’m thinking I may have to run out and buy a bottle this week to use in my Legendmobile.
The conclusion I reached as I watched Brad run down and pass Kyle Busch, was that maybe NASCAR hasn’t changed as much as I think it has but what has changed is ME. NASCAR is running a commercial now during the race broadcasts that ends by telling us that “Everything has changed, nothing has changed” as scenes of racing through the years show on our television. In the purest sense of the thought, that is exactly right. Men, and some women, still strap into powerful and colorful machines and battle it out on the tracks of NASCAR. The danger still lurks in every turn, although not quite to the degree it once did, and the glory is still there for those brave enough, and fortunate enough, to obtain it. Stock car racing is still a sport that requires the best a person has to be a success. All of that remains the same.
My problem, and maybe the problem of most fans now on the upper side of 40 years old, is that my favorite doesn’t race anymore. He has rightfully and appropriately retired. We grew up with Richard, David, Bobby, Cale, Donnie, or whomever. I have tried, tried really hard, to find another driver I could support with the same enthusiasm as I supported The King. When Rick Wilson took over for Richard in the number 44, I tried, but it didn’t work. John Andretti didn’t do much for me either. Bobby Hamilton I really liked and I pulled for him in every race, but it still wasn’t the same. Bobby was not Richard Petty. To even further remove me from the sport, there was no more Yarborough, Allison, Pearson or even D. W. Yeah, I mention D.W. because, as someone reminded me recently, when I first saw him drive at Darlington in the early 70s I think it was, I remarked to anyone who would listen that “Darrell can really drive a race car”. I believed that and I still believe that. He was a good driver. For him, it should have stopped there, but tonight, being in the mellow mood I am, I’ll give old D. W. a pass. Mikey? Ain’t gonna happen.
I have drivers I really like these days. Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman. I like both of these guys and I think they are both great drivers. I pull for them each week, but the passion I had for the 43 Plymouth/Dodge/Oldsmobile/Buick/ Pontiac just isn’t there. I’ve never met Brad but I have quite a history with his uncle. I have met Ryan several times and classify him as a first class individual. Besides, his dog, Fred, likes me! Still, it’s not the same.
The tracks I loved so when we used to be in the infield have all changed. We had our spot in the infield at Daytona, Talladega, Darlington, Rockingham, Charlotte, and Atlanta and even if we were late getting to the track, the regulars knew that spot was reserved for us. Just look at the infields now. Nothing like what they used to be. The tracks are not the same. Daytime races, even with the heat of the 10 a.m. start to the Firecracker 400, were great. Fresh air, sunshine, and fun. You could see friends across the tops of several motor homes and playfully harass those who pulled for someone else, or enjoy the playfulness of fans with the same favorite driver.
I am fully aware that things will never return to the way they were and in many ways that is a good thing. I am also fully aware that it is my reluctance to accept the changes which have been forced upon me that have caused major issues with NASCAR and me. While I never have, and never will, agree with everything NASCAR does, it does a great job of maintaining the sport with proper respect. Unlike the World Cup soccer deal which has countries on the brink of another world war pending the outcome of kicking a ball around for so long, NASCAR continues to pursue the sporting nature of competition.
Having said that, I still point out the small crowds showing up for races and the lack of support in television ratings, and somewhere there is something/someone to blame for that if we get into the blame game. Sure, I, like so many of you, feel that NASCAR kicked us to the side but after Saturday night I wonder if it was so much their kicking us to the side, or our unwillingness to adapt. Remember what happened to the dinosaurs. I will never been happy with the bogus “debris cautions” which, conveniently did not play a part in the outcome Saturday night, and neither will I be happy with some of the other attempts to manipulate races, but that is my problem to endure.
This much I know. I have no other sport that interests me. I have been around soccer now for 14 years since my grandsons started playing and I still don’t understand it. You won’t be catching me watching the World Cup regardless of all the Patriotic manipulation sponsors are throwing out there. Baseball bores me to tears. I watch college football when “my team” (actually Ann’s Alma Mater) is playing and I’ve learned to enjoy that. Pro football can take a long hike. As for basketball? Forget that. The sound those shoes make on the floors hurts my ears. There simply is no other sport for me but stock car racing.
I’m very happy I had the epiphany I did Saturday night. I realize now that I need to be more adaptable. Even at my age that is possible. I may still complain, and I may still find myself blasting NASCAR for something I perceive not right, but all in all, I’m likely to be a much more understanding person now. After all, the fault was not in the stars, but in how I perceived things that weren’t so. I’m sure there are some of you out there who totally get what I’ve said. At the same time I’m sure there are those who are, and who will remain clueless. Remember, though, that later in that same play, Shakespeare uses the line “we are here to bury Caesar, not to praise him”. I am here tonight to praise the sport that I want to survive and grow. Hey Bopper, pass the brie over here please!