Saturday, February 6, 2010

Finally.....NASCAR Starts Again!

My days of work involve listening to one tragic story after another, knowing that a majority of the time listening will be all I'll be able to do. The sad fact is that there are more poor people with legal problems than there are attorneys who are willing to take their cases for free.  It is likely that my clients will face a legal deck that is stacked mightily against them. Try pleading your own case sometime in a courtroom in which you are lost while all the other players are comfortably familiar with one another and the intricate rules involved in the judicial minuet. Now put the custody of your kids on the line if you fail because you crossed the t on your filing at the wrong angle.

It doesn't help much to know that my clients are often in the situations they are in because of their own foolish actions. I was fool enough myself in my younger years that I can identify with "there, but for the grace of God, go I".

And that brings us to the colorful, exciting spectacle that is NASCAR, a spectacle into which I can disappear on the weekends, leaving the sadness of bitter divorces and custody battles and fired employees and evicted tenants and harassing credit card companies behind.

The NASCAR world is characterized by sleek machines and roaring engines and courageous men and fan-atical fans, of which I am one. A Sprint Cup race is a few hours of nail-biting 200-mile-an-hour suspense. It is cars racing inches apart with disaster threatening at every turn. It is side-by-side challenges with one driver fighting to make the pass while the other battles to keep him from it. It is last-lap shoot-outs and spectacular bumper-car crashes, with cars spewing fire and sheet metal and rubber, spinning wildly into walls and each other.

Many people ask me, "what's so exciting about a bunch of cars going around in circles?" I could answer, "what's so exciting about a bunch of men running back and forth across a field chasing a football?" but I know the answer so I don't try to denigrate their entertainment in the way they often do mine. I know that whatever your sport, you have to invest enough time to understand the complexities of what is happening out there on the track or field or court to truly appreciate it.

Speed is part of NASCAR's attraction but so is strategy. Unlike generic football fields, NASCAR tracks vary greatly from week to week, going from super speedways to short tracks to road courses to mile and a halfs. The turns on each track are different; the banking is different. And each variation calls for a different skill and a different technique on the driver's part.

NASCAR is the ultimate team sport, starting with building the cars back at the garage to the way the crew chief sets it up to start, then makes adjustments all through the race to take changing track conditions into account. Race tracks aren't static. The driving conditions can change drastically if the day goes from overcast to sunny. A track surface can have lots of grip when its cool, then turn slick as an ice skating rink if the temperature goes up. And the pit crews play their parts as well. Fourteen seconds to change four tires, add fuel and perhaps make other changes as well? Not too bad but let's try for thirteen seconds next time.

And, of course, driver personalities enter into it too. NASCAR's icon, Dale Earnhardt, was known as the Intimidator. Fans loved his aggressive style. He didn't hesitate to knock another car out of his way if he was headed for the front.

Now Jimmie Johnson is the four-time-in-a-row champion (a feat never before accomplished). If Dale Earnhardt was a bull, charging through the pack with sheer power, Jimmie is a shark, gliding his way to the front, silent but deadly. Jimmie is silky smooth, a quality not always appreciated by passionate NASCAR fans who translate it into vanilla excellence. NASCAR Nation prefers its heroes hot but Jimmie is the epitome of cool.

I debate this with them in discussion groups and message boards, this as well as other subjects about which we feel great emotion, such as the Chase, which NASCAR's version of the play-offs.

But, unlike when I was so heavily involved in politics, it's all just fun because the fate of the free world doesn't rest on how NASCAR chooses its champion. And who celebrates in Victory Lane after any race doesn't determine that someone is going to lose their kids or their home or their income.  My driver wrecking out can seem tragic at the moment but in my heart, I know it isn't really.

And that's why I'm so glad that racing season has started again and so ready to step through the gates into the raucous, happy amusement park that is NASCAR.