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Phillips: Just running around in circles

Posted: July 7, 2015 5:53 p.m.
Updated: July 8, 2015 1:00 a.m.

Years back, in the late 1990s during my first stint living in South Carolina, I was a NASCAR fan. Not as passionate about it as some people, for sure, but I was interested and watched every race on TV and even went to a couple of major races in Charlotte and one in Darlington. It was a lot of fun.

My interest in NASCAR basically died with Dale Earnhardt. Not that I was #3’s biggest fan, but he did a lot for the sport and his record certainly speaks for itself. His death came as a real shock to the entire racing world and he is still missed and mentioned often when the subject is NASCAR. For some people, be they race drivers or rock stars or actors, they attain legend status when they die. Earnhardt was a true living legend.

Earnhardt’s death has been credited, and rightly so, for inspiring great improvements in driver safety. It’s more than a mere shame it takes a tragedy to make a problem come into focus, but it happens time after time. I can’t explain all the technicalities which make race drivers safer in the post-Earnhardt era, but they are much better padded and secured inside the car than they were before. The effectiveness of the improvements has been proven many times, including just two days ago in the wee hours of Monday morning when a major crash occurred on the final lap of the race at Daytona, eerily under similar circumstances and at the same location as Earnhardt’s fatal mishap. But, there were no serious injuries.

The title of this column may be unfair, and I’ll admit it. To the casual observer and especially to those who don’t understand the sport it looks as if all there is to it is drive, turn left, drive, turn left, repeat as needed. There really is strategy involved in auto racing, both on the track and especially in the pits, where a fraction of a second can mean the difference between winning and losing. Everyone involved truly is an athlete who trains hard and practices hard to get their assignment done in the most efficient way possible. Have you ever had to change a flat tire on your vehicle? How long did it take? A NASCAR pit crew changes four tires, puts gas in the car, wipes the windshield and gives the driver a drink, all in less than 15 seconds. Get a group of friends together and give that a try some time.

Anyway, like so many other things in the world, and the sports world in particular, NASCAR’s popularity grew over the years. The big dogs at the top started tinkering with it under the hopes it would grow even more and expand all through the U.S. and even into other countries. That’s big business and is understandable, but what happens sometimes -- and I think it has happened with NASCAR -- is in their effort to attract new people, they forget the ones who made them a success to start with. The phrase “dance with the one that brung ya” comes to mind. NASCAR seems to have forgotten that.

As I said, my interest in it dropped off many years ago and I know I’m not alone in that. A die-hard fan would say I never was much of a fan anyway if I lost interest so easily, and they’d be right, I guess. But during my time as a fan, I spent no small amount of money on race tickets and caps and T-shirts and all the whatnot that goes with it. But I keep sports in perspective and see it for what it really is, and that’s entertainment. My life is not affected one bit by who wins at Daytona or Darlington or the Super Bowl or the World Series.

Life goes on either way … around in circles.


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