The 2011 NASCAR season kicks off Sunday with the “Great American Race” in Daytona, and I’m happier than a tornado in a trailer park! Here’s a quick look-ee-loo at what to expect when the green flag drops, and a tribute to The Intimidator.
NEW BLACKTOP ON THE DAYTONA PLAYGROUND
I was but a twinkle in my daddy’s eye the last time Daytona had fresh asphalt. The Cowboys had just won Super Bowl XII, and Jimmy Carter the Peanut Farmer was President. Now, fer the first time since ’78, the two anda half mile terror is gittin’ some new lipstick. We’re talkin’ ’bout four layers of tar that’s thicker than my submarine sandwich is long (7″). Banked at 31 degrees in the corners, it’s more crooked than yer local sheriff. What’s it mean for racin’? When the boys went out to break her in last month, they got them engines twangin’ at 9600 RPM at 206 MPH. And it’s stickier than molasses in the sun, so there’s plenty of grip. Momma always said ‘excuses are like backsides’, but nobody should be whinin’ about the surface this year.
HOLD YER HORSES
So, ya reckon that with a new road to meet the rubber, the cars should be faster, and they are. Hold yer horses. Our good ol’ buddy Mike Helton saw speeds over 200 and got as nervous as a cat in a room fulla rockin’ chairs. And lickety-split, out come the restrictor plates. Wednesday mornin’ NASCAR announced that they’re requirin’ a new plate with smaller openin’s to cut back on the air to the carburetor. Less air means less carburetin’, which means less horsepower and slower speeds. Mikey also shrank the grill openin’s and reduced the pressure in the radiators, makin’ it harder to draft cuz the engine’ll overheat and blow it’s top. Told ya there’s a ton a science in NASCAR. Long story short, when the flag drops they’ll be off like a herd of turtles.
THE BIG ONE
The pretty doctor in ‘Days of Thunder’ said it best. When you put 43 super competitive S.O.B.s into 43 super fast cars just inches apart and tell ‘em whoever crosses a line first gets a crap-ton of money, you’re gonna have a few hiccups. Daytona is know for creatin’ ‘The Big One‘. It’s gonna happen again on Sunday. Question is, who’s got the goods to avoid the wreck.
‘INTIMIDATOR’-LESS FOR 10 YEARS
Ten years have come and gone since the worst moment in NASCAR, but Dale Earnhardt hasn’t been forgotten. In the final laps of the 43rd Daytona 500, Dale was intimidatin’ as always while he made the Goodwrench #3 seem five cars wide and cleared the path for Jr. and Mikey to fight it out for the win. It ended in tragedy on the final lap. The original broadcast is heartbreaking as Earnhardt’s ol’ buddy DW calls the race from upstairs. You can see the exact moment his excitement for little brother Mikey’s win turns to concern and then fear (1:34 in the video). Dee Dubyah’s fears became real when NASCAR announced later that day that Dale was gone.
Back to this Sunday. In recognition of the 10th anniversary of his passing, NASCAR has worked with officials at the track, broadcast partners, and fans to organize a Lap 3 Silent Tribute with announcers and fans observin’ a lap of silence while holdin’ a 3 up to Heaven. There’ll be a ’3′ painted on the infield grass, and RCR and ECR are runnin’ special decals on the cars. It may seem like overkill if yer not a true fan, but Big E’s death spurred some of the best life-savin’ improvements in racin’. For that, we are eternally grateful.