Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, December 11, 2017, 10:34 a.m.
When I was in college, the career of my favorite NASCAR driver, David Pearson, began to decline. His last victory was right before I graduated. Pearson kept on making occasional appearances for the next six years, but I had to find a new hero.
It’s why I’m not that saddened by the changing of the guard that has taken place over the past few seasons. Greg Biffle couldn’t find a ride. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Carl Edwards retired. Matt Kenseth lost his ride and decided he wasn’t willing to settle for less.
And Dale Earnhardt Jr.!
No one beats time. Not Earnhardt Jr. Not Stewart. Not Willie Mays. Not John Unitas. Not even Gordie Howe. Not me. Not you. Our careers have various spans, but they don’t last forever.
I love racing. That love is greater than any one person in it. When one generation supplants another, it may be sad, sentimental, and sorrowful, but the source of love lingers.
It won’t be the same.
Nope. Neither was America when FDR died, or baseball after Babe Ruth, or hockey after Wayne Gretzky, or late nights after Johnny Carson.
It’s exciting. The sport is full of young men we shall get to know better. These kids aren’t cardboard cutouts. It just seems that way now. They are the voices of a new generation, and theirs is a tough job because, if NASCAR is to be prosperous again, it will be because they inspire a new generation of fans.
Hell, I can’t relate to William Byron. I know the poetry of Lord Byron better. It’s one of the reasons I want to go to the track more often. I don’t want to see these kids just when the cameras are on.
I know Bill Elliott. I want to know Chase, at least a little. I know Dave Blaney. I want to see Ryan from a closer proximity. As a fan, I gravitated toward the elder Elliott as Pearson’s career winded down. Why? Because, when the Greenwood Index-Journal allowed me to write about Darlington in late 1981 and early 1982, one driver reminded me of Pearson on the track he mastered more than anyone else. Elliott was similarly smooth. He is the only driver who ever reminded me of Pearson at Darlington.
A huge, bountiful crop is being harvested at the great speedways of the land. The future is being left in their hands. Some will become Hall of Famers. Some will become footnotes.
This year we’re going to watch the races as if we were baseball scouts. Some will have “trouble with the curve,” to borrow from a Clint Eastwood movie. Some will have “the right stuff,” to borrow from a Tom Wolfe book.
I’ve probably just got one more generation left in me. I’d like to make the best of it.
Quit your moping. Drivers are going to keep right on starting their engines.
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