The lucky dog, indeed.
My learning curve was on a sharp incline this past Sunday. From Section Y, Row 20, Seat 15 in the Tyler Tower I experienced my first live, in-person NASCAR event, the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Please note my use of more active and expressive language in that short introductory comment. Let's not overplay it. But, let's not overlook it either. The truth is I didn't attend my first NASCAR race although I was every bit physically present. Getting real I actually experienced it. At. Every. Level. It was a physical, emotional, and spiritual rush that challenges my wordsmith instincts. Now, on Tuesday evening, I'm still saying WOW and still trying to remove the roar of engines from my already hearing challenged ears.
Scrolling through the learning syllabus last Sunday required a necessary but difficult first curriculum adjustment: I had to unlearn all the hype I'd heard for so long about the stock car racing culture. You know, the beer guzzling good old boy stuff, the shades of red neck straining to catch the action on the tracks, and the love-hate relationship of fans and the NASCAR drivers. OK, some of that stuff is true, very true. Painting with a broad brush, however, in my limited interaction with the people around us in the tower and in the many fan zones, most of those people were probably in church Sunday morning, were about as rough around the edges as the people in my Sunday School class, and were having good fun with their families and friends.
Several summery conclusions about the day came to mind last night. Let me comment on five notable observations---
1. There were many colorful people.
Fans are fans in every sporting venue and race day is no exception. People
watching may have been the most entertaining element. I'm not sure if
NASCAR has developed a fan base profile but it was obvious most of the
people I encountered were at home in the Darlington Raceway and
comfortable in the racing environment. They wore jerseys of every driver,
screamed and hollered their support, and expressed their elation and
frustration as the dynamics of race day unfolded. There was face painting, car
number ear rings, jackets, hats, buttons, shirts, glasses and sunglasses, hair
coloring, tattoos and other ink, flip flops, socks, car number toe nail
decorations, and just about every conceivable promotional item available to
support the drivers and the event.
2. There were spiritual moments.
Up front a prayer was spoken over the loud speaker system. It wasn't a generic
prayer to the gods of pop religion, but a heart felt expression for the event
prayed in the name of Jesus. That touched me. More to the point, let me tell
you about the couple right in front of us. They were NASCAR regulars from
Randleman, NC. They had been married for more than 50 years. Each wore a
jersey promoting different drivers. He wore a hat emblazoned in silver, "US Air
Force Retired". When the prayer was spoken, he drew her close, grasped her
right hand, put his left arm around her, and they prayed together. I'll confess
looking around during that prayer. The place was quiet, and the people were
being reverent. The crews of every driver were lined up in their pit road areas,
heads bowed. I was touched that such solemnity cold be visible with 58,000+
people waiting for a race.
3. There were emotional moments.
Right after we prayed someone with a great voice sang our national anthem,
The Star Spangled Banner. He did an amazing job. American flags flew all over
the pit area and throughout the grandstands and seating towers. The couple in
front of us sang every word of the anthem, along with thousands of others.
Once again, the pit crews were standing at attention with hands over hearts in
support of our nation. Immediately I was struck with how different this was
with what we're seeing in the National Football League and Colin Kaepernick. It
was an emotional thrill.
4. There were physical elements too.
Let me tell you, I've never experienced anything like the rush when the pace car
exited the track and those forty cars accelerated to begin the race. It
happened again every time there was a re-start after a yellow caution flag.
Having watched a race or two on television I knew that they reached enormous
speed in just a short period of time. But, TV minimizes it. It was a physical rush
I can't describe. WOW!
5. There were some life lessons.
OK, I'm a novice, a one timer who knew absolutely nothing about stock car
racing when those gentlemen started their engines. So, everything was
something new in my life-long learning process. One new life lesson plan was
the one about the lucky dog. It's how NASCAR refers to the beneficiary rule,
the stipulation that the closest car to the pack that is a lap down, can make up
that lap before the green flag resumes the race after a caution period. The
driver that is in front of the lapped cars gets another chance. He's the "lucky
dog". Now, I don't believe in luck all that much. But, I do love the redemptive
idea behind the beneficiary rule. Maybe I should let that kind of spirit define my
treatment of others, you know, a second chance. WOW.
In reflection, however, given the event, I'm really the lucky dog, the guy whose friends Charlie and his daughter Elizabeth Harding Ingram invited to a sixty-six year first.
Yes, the lucky dog, indeed.