Granted, NASCAR’s off-season is shorter than most, but it was sure nice to hear those engines roar, to see the cars thundering around the oval in a big pack, to see the bumps and even the spills. ARCA opened things right, with Larry McReynolds’ boy Brandon leading the way coming home before the tank went dry. That left Bobby Gerhart going by for his 8th career win on that track. Then came the Budweiser Shootout, as we again saw close pack racing that replaced the two car tango, giving us a more classical sling shot victory by Kyle Busch over Tony Stewart. Cars could hook up only for so long before they over-heated, and if the drivers bumped wrong or in the wrong place bad things happened. If I wasn’t ready for the season to start before, after watching the action last weekend I sure am biting at the bit to see what will take place this Sunday at Daytona.
Maybe it is time for the NFL to learn a little something from the car jockeys for a change. Football’s all-star game is a dud, few give a damn, and even making it part of the Super Bowl festivities failed to jack up much interest. How about starting the season with all-stars, or incoming rookies, even with modified rules? Those lads who play football in soccer attire Down Under give their fans a season opening month long exhibition tournament. Teams in Australia open play with two shortened games against two opponents on the same day to commence the NAB Cup competition that features all 18 teams. The expansion Sydney Giants unsurprisingly lost both their openers, but were within a single kick of winning either of them to open a few eyes.
Hockey could do more, but their format of having the captains select their own teams like kids having a pick-up game at the local rink has been a great innovation. Not much wrong with baseball’s mid-season classic, as the fan support would indicate, but wouldn’t it be great if they featured a few old-timers getting together for a nine-inning game somewhere to kick off the season? Luke Appling has been gone more than 20 years now, but I still remember back to 1982 when the then 75-year old former White Sox star of the 1930’s and 40’s hit a 250 foot shot off Warren Spahn at old RFK Stadium. What a way that would be to open a season.
NASCAR does not really need a featured old-timers race and it already has a very popular all-star event. However, since 1979 the sport has opened the new season with a race with modified rules featuring primarily pole sitters from the past year or those who had previous success in the contest. It not only puts some cars back on the track in competition, but it also gives fans a preview of what might be expected in the upcoming Daytona 500. If what we saw last Sunday equates into what we can see this Sunday, the Great American Race will be something to behold.
By the way, just in case you don’t realize that we are indeed living in one of NASCAR’s golden eras, keep in mind that of the eight Cup champions who have claimed the title over the past 18 seasons, only Dale Jarrett will not be running in this weekend’s Daytona 500.