MONTE DUTTON - THE RACE OF OPPORTUNITY
America is poised on the cusp of NASCAR. Not as much of America realizes the literally earth-shaking significance of this. The Daytona 500 has never been as significant as now, though, because many people who used to look forward to the entire season now look forward merely to the opening act.
NASCAR is an aging actor with a new role, hoping that his reputation can be restored.
At the post office, someone asks me, "Who you reckon's gonna win the 500 this year?"
I said the first driver who came to mind. I don't remember who he was today, and the question was yesterday. If that driver miraculously wins, that fellow will think I knew what I was talking about.
If I see that fellow again, he won't ask me who is going to win the Dollar General/Krispy Kreme/Ollie's Discount Outlet 400. He won't even know where it is.
The biggest race of the whole season is first. If it's a humdinger, that fellow may watch the next one.
What I love about racing isn't timing and scoring on my laptop, or what Junior tweeted about the move that catapulted Jamie McMurray into the lead, or whether those were bonus points or stage points, or whether whatever kind of points they were count at the beinning of the playoffs because, well, this is the winter and the playoffs begin at the end of the summer.
For four solid decades, NASCAR grew and grew. Then it got greedy. Just racing cars wasn't enough. NASCAR was destined to rule the sports world. As ridiculous as it seems now, there was a time when NASCAR's leaders thought they were going to be bigger than the NFL.
I remember a night at Julian's, the restaurant in Ormond Beach where the France family liked to entertain, when Brian France, heir to the dynasty, was going on and on about the limitless potential of the sport he was about to inherit. When he opened the floor to questions, I asked him how he was going to make stock car racing appeal to a black kid in the Bronx who rode the subway and never developed the great American love affair with the automobile.
France looked at me as if I wasn't very smart.
"Why, video games, of course."
As I look back, I think it was the beginning of the end. There doesn't have to be an end. NASCAR just has to get back to the basics. It has to start building anew. Each year the Daytona 500 offers that small opportunity.