Heart Like A Wheel
Most, if not all, NASCAR fans are familiar with the roots of the sport. They are familiar with the fact that it was born from the days of running moonshine in the south during prohibition. However, I am only in my 30s and that far back doesn't give it the personal connection to me that it probably should. Maybe it's due to being from California, where NASCAR really isn't that ingrained into the culture. If you are from California and are a NASCAR fan, you will know what I mean. Mention that you are a NASCAR fan here to random acquaintances in the market or at work and invariably, they will look at you like you might be slightly insane or at the very least from another state. However, I was born here on the central coast of California and have lived here all my life not ten miles down the road from a race track (granted not one that NASCAR runs on). I still the looks...my own uncle even stating "I don't understand what Amy gets out of watching cars drive around in circles" when I was on a "race-cation" during a family get together.
It's hard for me to explain a love for something that I just fell in love with as a child. My mom likes to tell the story about how my love for racing started. According to her, I was in the living room watching what she assumed were cartoons one weekend. Being the typical weary parent, she got suspicious when it seemed too quiet and went to investigate. She found me sitting cross-legged on the floor mesmerized by a race. A stock car race. A NASCAR race. She asked me who I was rooting for and I apparently rolled my eyes at her and said "Bill Elliott of course" so she asked me why. I sighed and said "Because he drives a Ford and we do too." I was about 6 or 7 at the time.
Since then favorite drivers and even favorite forms of motorsports have come and gone from my life. A couple of years after my mom found me watching the NASCAR race, I discovered the movie Heart Like a Wheel and probably watched it at least once a week for an entire summer. After seeing that movie just once I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be just like Shirley Muldowney. I wanted to feel and harness pure speed as I drove as fast and as straight as possible piloting an NHRA car down the quarter-mile.
My love for NHRA waned when I discovered CART or "IndyCar" as we called it in my house. I soon has new favorite drivers and lived for the Indy 500. I have very vivid memories of watching "bubble day" with my dad as we tried to guess who would make the field and who wouldn't...trying to figure out what speeds would be just not fast enough. My first race was during this portion of my life. It was the early ninties and my dad surprised me with tickets to the IndyCar race at Laguna Seca. He sprung for paddock passes and I remember wandering around the track early in the morning and watching it "wake up" as the teams started to hustle around their areas - most of which were set up under awnings next to the team haulers. I remember the first time I heard an IndyCar engine rev in person - I about jumped out of my skin. Those suckers are loud! I loved every minute of it. I went to the Indy races a few more times at Laguna...then something horrible happened. CART split into two separate leagues and I was lost. Some of my favorite drivers went on to IRL and some went to other leagues like Champ or Daytona Prototypes and some just disappeared.
I kind of flailed a bit as a motorsports fan for awhile. I didn't really follow IRL that closely- it just wasn't the same to me anymore. I didn't really follow NHRA that closely. Nor did I follow NASCAR that closely- it wasn't really the girly thing to do. I don't even know what predicated it, but I started to get pulled back towards my first love of NASCAR right about the time my favorite driver Tony Stewart emerged onto the scene. Something drew me to these cars initially as a kid- and I think that it was because they looked most like the cars sitting in the driveways on our block.
While this may not be the case so much these days as the body styles of the COTs are all pretty much the same for me, I still love the sport for the same reasons I always did. It's about what is underneath the bodies; the blood, sweat and tears (not to mention time) that the crews put into prepping the cars; the effort, skill and determination of the drivers; and even the dedication of other NASCAR fans that has tattooed this sport on my soul. NASCAR is not a sport I just watch, it's a sport that I can touch, taste and feel every time I am at a track. And that is why I keep coming back.
Photo Credit: BC
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