Race Weekend Central

In The Face Of Great Tragedy, NASCAR Shines Its Brightest

There are few things more sobering in life than learning of the tragedies we sometimes face as a nation. This was no less true over the past week when Massachusetts suffered a horrific tragedy with a bombing at the Boston Marathon and shooting at MIT in Cambridge that took a family member of one of NASCAR’s own.

Officer Sean Collier, brother of Hendrick Motorsports machinist Andrew Collier, died tragically in a standoff with the suspected Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It turned a tragic situation into downright heartbreaking knowing that the NASCAR community was so horribly affected. Now, it was personal.

“Trying to gather all this is going on, but a very sad time,” said driver Jimmie Johnson. “My thoughts and prayers are with the Collier family. I certainly know that it is the same thing for all of Hendrick Motorsports. We are one big family and it’s sad and unfortunate to see a fellow teammate and his family going through such a tough time.”

Though I never met Collier, my heart aches for him and his family. It’s hard enough to lose a family member in the first place, but to lose a family member in such a horrific and unexpected way? I can’t even imagine. And I know that everyone from every other team is feeling the same way.

Much has been made of this whole “cheating” and “tattling” scandal that is going on between Penske Racing and Hendrick Motorsports right now. It was mentioned in every press conference, discussed widely throughout the garage area, and social media has been abuzz with the news since the story was first broken. It’s amazing, though, when tragedy hits home that the community seems to pull together. No the Penske crew members and HMS crew members might not be the best of friends and they still want to kill each other (figuratively of course) on the racetrack.

But I don’t doubt that they would be there in a heartbeat if they were needed. It’s just how the traveling circus that is NASCAR is. It’s one big, dysfunctional family and the heartbeat is the familial company that everyone enjoys with one another. And though the drivers and crew members are racing with heavy hearts, they know they still have a job to do.

“When you get in the racecar, you focus on your job,” said Jeff Gordon. “When I’m outside the car I’m certainly anxious like so many others of what is going on. That is weighing heavy on everybody I think throughout this country. Dealing with that event and right now it’s about just being with those people as they recover, deal with the loss or finding justice.”

It’s an interesting thing how much the whole Boston tragedy has touched us, and, to a larger extent, this whole week. Several TVs in the Media Center were on CNN or other news stations in order to allow everyone to keep up with going on and Twitter feeds were often more focused on the latest update on the capture of the one remaining terrorist than who was fastest in practice. It became a challenge, even for me, to keep up with what was going on on-track. I would put on my headphones and try and block it out, doing everything in my power to keep the task in hand in front of me.

Why is that? Why has this story gripped us so hard? Was it the brutality? The hatred? The fear that has been coursing through the veins of every American who remembers 9/11? Was it just the final blow dealt to those of us who have fought back tears after Aurora, Newtown, and Clackamus? Was it everything?

I don’t know. I just know that focusing on Kansas became harder as the news of the day intensified and as tensions grew ever higher. Even though I was hundreds of miles from Boston, my heart and spirit were fully there, and it appears many others were as well. Even as I type this, my mind still wanders to my Twitter feed and the television as the crazy dilemma unfolds in front of all of us. It makes my stomach turn and sickens me to my core.

What these tragedies do offer us, though, is some perspective. Racing becomes an escape from the routine, an alternative to the news cycle that has managed to drain us emotionally over the last week. The race over the weekend became much smaller, much less important, and slightly more gratifying. It became, in a way, a safe haven.

“I still can’t quite grasp what’s gone on and what all of the consequences of it all are,” Carl Edwards of the incidents during Friday’s availability, “but I think any time you see something like that—for me personally—it makes me realize the world is a crazy place and there are a lot of things going on here and around the world that aren’t good and that we wish hadn’t happened, and we are very fortunate to do what we do.

“For my personal biggest concern today,” he continued, “to be able to come to the race track and worry about qualifying a race car when other people are worried about losing their loved ones, we are very, very fortunate and I think it reminds me that every day you’ve got to thank a higher power that things are good for you and going well.”

Indeed, many of us should probably hug our family members a little tighter tonight. So many will never be able to hug theirs again, instead having to bury them far too soon.

On the other hand, I believe it is important to resume normal activities as soon as possible. We cannot allow terrorists to break our spirit or ruin the things we love. We must hold strong in the face of adversity, and darn it if we already haven’t. When NASCAR drivers are holding banners on the side of their door, pledging funds to help those in needs, and the rest of the country is there to hold the hands of perfect strangers, I would stay that terrorism has, in the end, lost the fight.

And for that, I hope Sunday is a great race and that the people of Massachusetts are able to enjoy it in peace and safety.

One more thing before I put this to rest. God bless our EMTs, police officers, and firefighters. We were reminded all too much this week of the sacrifices they make for us every day.

Enjoy the race. We need it now more than ever.

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