Before we get to the main topic of the Legendtorial tonight, let’s talk for just a minute about this “Final Four” heading into Homestead this Sunday. The show in Phoenix this past Sunday decided the four who would participate. Ryan Newman pulled a trick out of Keselowski’s hat to slam himself into the final position in the Chase for the Cup when he moved Kyle Larson out-of-the-way. Ryan was not apologetic, nor should he have been in my opinion. As far as I know early this Monday morning, no one has interviewed Larson to see how he feels about it. Poor Jeff Gordon, seeking his fifth title, was eliminated from the final four with that move by Newman although Jeff finished second.
So, we have Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman who will fight it out (maybe literally) for the Cup next Sunday unless God intervenes and it rains out the race requiring it to be run on a Monday. In this mess, we have one time winner Hamlin, no time winner Newman, Harvick who has won three I believe, and Logano who has won four. Richard Childress Racing is represented, as are Penske Racing, Stewart Haas Racing, and Preacher Joe’s team of misfits. Noticeably absent, and I mean VERY noticeably absent is Hendrick Motorsports. I’m sure Rick and the boys are shaking their heads at how this could happen with four such powerful drivers, well, three powerful drivers (Johnson, Gordon, and Junior) and one guy who could not catch a break if he was in a race with only Danica, and you know I’m talking about Kasey Kahne. You have to wonder how someone with Kasey’s talent has so many problems trying to finish races up front. I’m sure Kasey has those same questions.
When Homestead waves the checkered flag next Sunday, it is possible we will have a winless Champion (Newman) or a one time winner champion (Hamlin). Regardless, we know we will have a Champion who has never been Champion before. I really have mixed feelings over which driver I want, but “at the end of the day” (love saying that), I will root for Newman, winless or not , because he is a great driver and even a greater guy!
All this discussion of consistency versus wins I don’t care about that one way or the other. What I do find preposterous is the statement in January by NASCAR’s fearless leader, that this new system is all about winning and is designed to reward winners. Yes, I know Benny Parsons won the title with only one victory that season as did Matt Kenseth as I recall, but if it’s all about winning Brian, please explain that to Brad Keselowski and Roger Penske. Either way, I truly think I don’t care anymore. I will probably watch Homestead but should anything else come along in my life for those hours that may require my presence, then it’s so long television for the afternoon. I will leave that with my wishes to Ryan Newman for the very best outcome possible Sunday.
Now, on to the “Kid” who won the Nationwide Title in his rookie year, not to mention he is not yet 19 years old. I have already read social media posts from Elliott fans equating him to the greatest thing to ever come into NASCAR. I have also read many posts very disparaging about the son of someone with so much money and with NAPA backing no less, coming in and “stealing” the title from other deserving drivers. I watched several of the Nationwide races this year including the one Chase won in Texas and then that amazing job he pulled off at Darlington. In every race I watched, Chase showed he has the patience, skill, knowledge and talent to deserve that title. I was very happy when I heard the post race interview with Rick Hendrick when he was asked if they were moving Chase up to Cup next season. Rick said “no” and went on to say he will spend another year in Nationwide, now Xfinity, which I think is the absolute best thing he can do. I think Chase will learn so much more to prepare him for the Cup by running Xfinity next year and he can enter the Cup series at age 20 and be on his way to championships there. The future of the sport is in good hands, in my opinion, with newcomers like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Cole Whitt, and others. I don’t think there has been an influx of such young talent in such numbers since back in the 50s. But then again, how much of what Rick Hendrick had to say about that subject can you actually trust?
Now, to what I really want to address tonight. Chase Elliott is the youngest Champion any of the NASCAR touring series (Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Trucks) the sport has ever had. He is only 18 years old, a fact pointed out over and over and over again. That is a feat of which Chase, his family and fans can be justifiably proud. But, in the overall scheme of things, being an 18-year-old racing champion is not that big a deal.
How many of you got up this morning, had breakfast, read the paper, went to work and earned an honest day’s living at your chosen profession? How many of you younger folks got up and went to school to get your education? How many of you came home and were greeted by your family, or maybe your dog? How many of you did so many things today you take for granted no matter your age? Think about this for a moment. Do you think you should thank some 18 or 19-year-old kid for all that freedom? Maybe even some 17-year-old? It is very true. Today (Tuesday) is Veterans’ Day, a day set aside to honor ALL Veterans of the Military Services of the United States. If you didn’t know that, shame on you. If you did pause for just a moment to honor those who serve and have served this country, then shame on you.
When my Uncle Bobby died last October and his daughter and I were going through some of the things he had kept in the spare room, we came across the Honorable Discharge of my Maternal Grandfather who served in World War I. As I read the information on the discharge, even my poor math determined he was only 17 when he was shipped to France to fight the Germans. All I really know about his service is that he was driving a wagon pulled by four mules, full of ammunition to the front in that war when a German shell hit close by and caused the ammo to explode, throwing my grandfather off the wagon and through the air to crash into a tree. The explosion caused him hearing problems the rest of his life but the only real physical injury from the explosion was a broken arm when he hit the tree. Heard that story many times growing up. A teenager, younger than Chase Elliott, fighting for this Country.
When the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, my Dad was working in a Civil Conservation Corp camp and was approaching his 21st birthday in January, 1942. December 8, 1941, he joined the Army and was shipped to Fort Jackson here in Columbia for training. He met my mother here and they were married before he shipped out to fight in the Pacific, island by island, until the Japs were bombed into submission in August, 1945. Three years my Mom lived with his parents in up-state New York while he served his country. I have, in my possession, a footlocker trunk full of letters to my mother from him during the war and those I have read tells me that my Daddy served his country proudly and without thought as to sacrifice. My Daddy never talked about the war when I was growing up, the only visible reminder being the pistol he had taken from a dead Jap officer which he made into a lamp. It was not until 1988 when I attended a reunion of his 77th Statute of Liberty Division did I hear from his Colonel what a true hero my father was in the war. I have all his medals framed and hanging on the wall here in The Lair, including the Bronze Star. He was not yet 25 years old when he returned after the war.
The “war of my generation” was Vietnam, not ignoring Korea, but it was Viet Nam when folks of my age had the obligation to serve. From my relatively small high school graduating class, we lost six men to that war. I had joined the Navy at age 17,not so much out of a desire to serve as it was to get my military obligation out-of-the-way so I could drive race cars. I was subject to the draft so I wanted to go in, get out and race. I spent all my time in the Navy either in accelerated schools being educated, or sailing back and forth to the Caribbean every year. In fact, all you folks who pay to cruise to the Caribbean should be jealous that I was paid to tour all those islands! In fact, spent quite a bit of time doing that.
Although I am writing this Monday morning, I already know that today (Tuesday) was a special day. My youngest grandson, Michael, is having a Veterans’ Breakfast at his school. Then there is a parade through the school with the Veterans and their kids or grandkids. Last year Michael got to carry the banner in front of the Navy Group and he was so proud of that.
Speaking of Michael, he is so into military things, that I took him out to Fort Jackson during the summer to visit all the military museums there. He and I had an awesome time. Without a doubt, he and I were both shocked at the trainees we encountered out there. For the most part, well-educated, 18 and 19-year-old men who volunteered to defend this country. Of that they, and we, have much to be proud. When you think of it, was it not the 18 and 19 year olds who stormed the beaches at Normandy? Was it not the 18 and 19 year olds who made it possible to raise that flag on Iwo Jima? Is it not, for the most part, the 18, 19, 20 and 21 year olds who protect our freedoms around the world on land, sea, and air?
I was always hesitant to stand in church when they asked for all Veterans to stand and be recognized on the Sunday closest to Veterans’s Day. It took a retired Chaplain from the U.S. Army who came to pastor our church to explain to me that the fact I did not participate in combat did not prohibit me from considering myself a Veteran. I was not ashamed of being a Vet, but when I considered my easy time in the Navy versus the jungles of Vietnam, it didn’t seem fair to me. I am proud I served in the Navy and it really lights me up inside when I hear 11-year-old Michael Timothy talk about that.
I go to church now with a man who, at 17 was involved in The Battle of The Bulge in World War II. He returned to France this year as a part of a contingent of Veterans who fought in World War II and he has pictures he took of the row upon row of white crosses in Normandy. He speaks not as a hero, but as someone doing his duty for his country. He is a Veteran and he is proud of that as he should be.
Remember, as we sign off tonight and you go about your business, as Jeff always says, you have a Vet to thank for your freedom. As Patrick always says on Monday evening, “Freedom is not free and a veteran has paid the price”. As I write this and think about tomorrow and Michael and I proudly wearing our Navy caps we bought during our visit to Fort Jackson, I couldn’t be more proud to be a Veteran. I couldn’t be more proud of each and every young man and woman I see wearing the uniforms of our military services. I couldn’t be more proud to be a citizen of a country where our Veterans are recognized on a special day in November. What I am hoping is that we recognize them each and every day and every time we see that flag of red, white, and blue, we think of all those who have sacrificed so much to keep that flag waving. To everyone who has served, and is serving today, God bless you all and thank you. This also goes to the families of Vets. Just watch some of the homecomings and see the emotion. The families deserve a moment of honor as well. There is a channel on my cable system that has hour-long shows from time to time called “I’m Coming Home”. I watch that from time to time and the emotion of the wives and kids when their loved one returns is unequaled, even by an 18-year-old winning a racing Championship. Chokes me up most times and, at times, brings tears to my eyes.
God bless all Veterans and their families. God bless the Country they serve. Oh, I have a couple dozen other stories about interactions with service folks over the past five or six years, but suffice it to say, if you see someone serving in uniform today, thank him or her. Let them know you appreciate their service and sacrifice. Since this show airs Tuesday evening, Veterans’ Day will technically be over for another year. In reality, we should honor our Veterans each and every day and certainly do all we can to let those serving today know how much we appreciate what they are doing. I’m sure Jerry Smith will agree with me on that!