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NASCAR Was Indeed Great In The Past And, Yes, It Is Today

In years past, NASCAR racing was good, but over the course of many years there were only a few drivers who won consistently. One of them was, obviously, Richard Petty.

I always find it so interesting when I hear people reminisce about NASCAR’s past. They seem to wear an especially strong style of rose-colored glasses as they romanticize about the time gone by.

I am guilty of the same when I recall favorite races with Dale Earnhardt, but for others, it colors so much of their memories that nothing NASCAR produces is “acceptable” in its current form.

I heartily disagree. The entertainment I get from watching the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is incomparable.

Certainly I admit that some races of old were extraordinary and some drivers mythological in their skill and prowess. The past holds gems throughout its rich history.

Recently I have been reading my colleagues’, Tom Higgins and Steve Waid, book “Junior Johnson: Brave in Life”. The book is a fascinating account of Robert Glenn Johnson, Jr. – or Junior as he is widely known.

In the myriad stories told, Junior tells of seasons in the early 1980s when Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison swapped wins for seven or more races. For fans of those drivers that was amazing and assuredly fun to watch, but if your driver was not one of the two winning, it must have been a bit dismal.

Looking even further back, when Richard Petty was dicing it up with the likes of David Pearson and others, yet continued to dominate with many wins per season, it must have been a bore to some.

Jimmie Johnson is the most recent dominant star I have experienced in today’s NASCAR. I found it tedious to watch him win so many times during his five championship seasons.

But, now that we’ve had a reprieve, I’m anxious to see how far Johnson can go in his career. I have come full circle and find myself thrilled by the prospect of Johnson winning and possibly setting more records.

In addition, current racing has a depth of competition that is unparalleled in NASCAR. In any given week far more than half the field can win.

For example, in 2011, there were 18 different winners.

In the current season there have already been 10 different winners in 14 races.

Gone are the days when Ned Jarrett won the Southern 500 by 14 laps. Or that Earnhardt won the championship in 1987 by 489 points.

Now we have seasons like 2001 where the championship was determined on the very last lap of the final race of the season.

My point is not to malign, discredit, or undervalue the stars of the past, but to point out that what is perceived by some is more an emotional attachment to the time period than an actual realistic look at the week in and week out racing that was going on.

Another driver who seemed to dominate the competition was the late Dale Earnhardt (left). Today, however, it would appear competition has equalized. It's a given that, more than ever before, more drivers can win races.

Furthermore, I can completely identify with the folks who look to the past and remember it fondly, and hold it as the bar with which to compare all other eras of NASCAR. As I have stated often, I am an Earnhardt fan and recall the years I watched him race as “the best ever.”

Every book I read, however, relates that situations NASCAR is experiencing in 2012 it also did the same in each part of its past.

Accusations of cheating by competitors, criticism of NASCAR’s iron fist and grumblings of its lack of consistency circulated since year one.

Domination of one team stinking up the field of competition until the rest finally caught up with, and eventually surpassed, the so-called “king of the heap du jour”.

Now there is a pervasive feeling that NASCAR is nothing but “corporate image guys” on the track. Names like Jeff Gordon and Johnson are offered up as examples of polished spokesmen who have no relation to racers of old; they lack greasy fingernails and an intimate relationship with every part on the car.

That may be true. But that is the evolution of the sport. Larger purses were always sought to infuse more talent in NASCAR. As the economy waxes and wanes sponsorship money is more difficult to come by – so having a driver who looks good and understands how to hawk for companies is a highly sought after commodity.

Safety concerns have led to a far more technological set up of the car, which in turn has led to college-educated engineers, diagnostic interpreters and other specialized team members to become integral to the race team.

No longer can a driver with a car, a few hardscrabble guys and sponsorship from a couple of Mom and Pop stores make the race on Sunday. It’s sad, yes, but the nature of change.

The bottom line is racing was spectacular in every year of NASCAR in which you were a fan. Each “era” carries great times for the person who remembers them. As history shows, however, the same arguments, conditions and squabbling existed “then” as it does “now”.

Jeff Burton was speaking to the NASCAR media at his test session at the newly reconfigured Bristol track this week. He voiced what has been on my mind for years. Burton said that NASCAR is the only sport that is scrutinized so heavily. He mentions that in the NFL, people may be upset with a referee’s call, but the NFL itself is not slammed.

Burton went on to say that not every race is going to be spectacular. Some will be fantastic while others may be “sleepers.” He continued by saying that not every NBA game is great either. “Some suck,” he said succinctly.

Racing at the Sprint Cup level is inherently flawed yet still vastly entertaining.  Talent runs amok, personalities bubble over (the Busch brothers, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards, among others), and the racing is still drawing crowds.

My feelings are, Sprint Cup racing is still the sport to which I gravitate every weekend for 10 months of every year. I root for different drivers, am awed by talent, captivated by teamwork, and infected by brash behavior. I get my investment back tenfold when I put the time in to watch NASCAR – still.

Of course, I will always miss the best who ever was… Dale Earnhardt.

Excuse me while I take off my rose-colored glasses to wipe away a few tears.

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