If you’ve read my bio, you know that I formed my writing roots as a motorsports journalist covering NASCAR at speedways of the south. As such, the annual running of the Daytona 500 is always an exciting time for me.
Perhaps the strangest Daytona 500 for me was in 1991 when Ernie Irvan won his first and only 500. What made it strange for me is, I had taken a job in Alaska and watched the green flag fall at 8:00 am. That was just so wrong!
I remember when Derrick Cope won the 500 back in 1990 when Earnhardt cut a tire down in turn three on last lap giving the position to Derrick. What it meant for me is the interview I had setup for the following week with a relatively new driver from Washington was now an interview with a Daytona 500 winner. I somewhat expected Derrick to reschedule our time, but to his credit he followed through and I had a wonderful time with him and crew chief Buddy Parrott at Rockingham the following week.
What NASCAR fan does not remember the 1998 race when favorite son Dale Earnhardt won his first 500 after 19 previous attempts? The site of that black number three coming down pit road is one of my best Daytona memories. Mike Joy in the broadcast booth summed up the moment with these words – “Look, out on pit road! Every man on every crew has come out to the edge of pit lane to congratulate the man who has dominated everything there is to win in this sport, except this race; until today.”
And then three years later the triumph of the Earnhardt car driven by Michael Waltrip was overshadowed by the death of a legend further back on the track. Michael, driving a Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet was followed by Dale Jr. in another DEI car. Dale Senior was running in third when he lost control of his car, collected Kenny Shrader and drove hard into the third turn wall and instantly succumbing to the violence of the crash. The face of NASCAR was changed instantly by Dale’s death that day.
If something good can come out of something so bad, safety became paramount for the drivers and the 2008 Daytona 500 saw the first use of the newly engineered Car of Tomorrow. Everything about that car was designed with the drivers safety in mind. Ask a young Michael McDowell who drove his COT directly into the wall at Texas Motor Speedway at around 190 mph how much safer the car is. The crash was much more violent than Dale’s crash, yet Michael was able to climb out and walk away.
So here we are, minutes away from the green flag that kicks off the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Season. So many drivers in this race have the car and talent to win. It’s anyone’s guess who will grace victory lane and I don’t have a clue. All indications are this race may be the most exciting 500 to come along in years.
Second place is just the first place loser. ~ Dale Earnhardt