The sound of the gunshot ricochets off the multitudes that fill the stadium. The runners leap up. Heartbeats, the thump of feet and harsh breathing fill the air. In this moment only the finish line matters. The tape snaps and the chaos of the fans suddenly impedes upon the competitor’s awareness.
Yes, millions watched the race, but if you ask the spectators what about those few seconds or minutes they’ll remember, the answers won’t be of legs pumping. They will recall the stunned smile of victory, a flag draped over shoulders and a kiss placed upon an aging picture. It is the moment where any meeting of individuals, such as the just completed Summer Olympics, makes the leap from mere competition and morphs into worldwide spectacle.
It is spectacle that has forever marked NASCAR as the premiere form of auto racing in America, and some could argue, the world.
Normally the responsibility of creating the eye candy for the fans gets passed off to the track promoters. Rock concerts, fireworks, can koozies and insane stunts are only some of the carrots dangled in front of the fan with the cash. However, the races I hold most fond in my personal scrapbook are those that combine some good old beatin’ and bangin’ followed by a victory lane celebration with more than a hat dance included.
We got that in spades at Watkins Glen this past Sunday. During the final lap, racing fans were treated to the best example of “have at it, boys,” we’ve seen in years. The Nos. 9 and 2 both had the car and the driver needed to steal the win from the other. There was dirt and dust and dents. Had Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski simply put a fender to a bumper at the right time, instead of ecstatic teams shaking hands on pit road, we would’ve had more whining from the victor and the first loser than we cared to hear.
That finish was, quite simply, perfect.
The action on the track sent me rocketing off the couch. The cats ran for cover and I’m sure the neighbors were wondering what just happened. I was thrilled that the two cars took the game all the way to the finish line. What made it better were the post-race shots of the Miller Lite boys shaking hands with the Stanley crew and not a frown to be seen anywhere.
How often is it that even the battling teams are as thrilled with the outcome of the race as the fans? Only when said competitors are aware that what they just created was one of those rare spectacles that becomes a branding moment for NASCAR and their individual careers.
Keselowski said it all as he entered the media center post race. “That ought to be worth a few ratings points.” And probably another 100,000 followers on Twitter.
ESPN will burn the midnight oil to craft a thrilling highlight reel, complete with a few choice quotes from Keselowski, and run it every time they think NASCAR could use a little bump. The ratings and attendance for the races leading up to the Chase will benefit from Sunday’s post-race euphoria and the sport can hope another asphalt miracle will happen.
Fans tune in when underdogs steal a win, when their favorite literally pushes a rival across the finish line and when something wholly unexpected happens. Surprise always trumps consistency in the, “Hey! Watch this!” category.
There are reasons why NASCAR has a 43-car field, one being that with enough cars on a track at some point they are likely to come together in conflict. However, that hasn’t occurred on a weekly basis as the sport turned more and more to cookie-cutter tracks in an effort to snare the elusive aero control that the car builders and drivers strive to conquer. We’ve watched the side-by-side action of the short tracks turn into afternoon long parades. Road courses don’t always stave off the boredom. Even in the opening laps of Sunday’s Fingerlakes 355k at the Glen, I wondered if anybody would be seeing much of Kyle Busch until the checkers fell.
But we were pleasantly surprised, weren’t we? Parts failures, fuel snafus and a random car fire all combined to serve us up one hell of a finish. The kind we’ll be talking about for years to come.
Sideways cars, blurred hands trying to keep their machine straight, bumpers inches from their target and… smiles. Great big grins (Does anybody have a bigger smile than Ambrose?) all up and down pit road graced the tire carriers, crew chiefs, drivers and fans alike.
That’s the moment we’ll recall for years to come. That’s the one where young and old joined together and proclaimed, “Now you know why we’re race fans!”
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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