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There is a wonderful scene near the end of the classic movie “Field of Dreams” where Timothy Busfield’s character, named Mark, suddenly looks up and says to Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella character, a farmer who had plowed his cornfield under to build a baseball diamond in the middle of Iowa, “When did these ballplayers get here?”
Mark, of course, had just been able to see for the very first time what almost everyone around him had been intensely focused on all along.
Some refer to this phenomenon as the “Elephant in the Room,” something major that is happening, is on everyone’s mind and is impossible to ignore, but nobody wants to talk about it because no one knows quite how to handle it. It’s too overwhelming.
Like every shiny new race season before it, 2008 has opened with a bang. Just a couple of weeks in, and we’ve already enjoyed plenty of activity, excitement and yes, even some controversy.
The defending Sprint Cup Series champion earned the top starting spot for the Daytona 500. His date on the front row? A Toyota.
A second Toyota went on to win one of the Gatorade Duel races on Thursday afternoon, the manufacturer’s first victory in a Sprint Cup Series event. That was fun to watch.
Thanks to problems with mysterious but apparently important things like coating and lifters, at least six top drivers had to change their engines and drop to the back of the field for the Gatorade Duel qualifying races on Thursday. Not so much fun for them, but from a fan’s perspective, it’s always thrilling to watch NASCAR’s cream rise to the top, or race to the front.
A grand total of zero point races had been run before two guys already found themselves on six weeks’ worth of probation, in a prime example of putting the cart before the horsepower.
There is one particular subject in NASCAR, however, that comes thundering into every conversation like Hannibal’s invasion of Italy, with not just one elephant to worry about, but an entire herd of them, suited up and ready for battle. We may not always talk about it, but believe me, it is always there.
This particular elephant is not lurking in a dusty corner of the room; he's looming large in the center of the Cup garage. Obviously, I am referring to a driver.
There is a driver in the Sprint Cup Series who has won 17 races during the course of his career. He is a former NASCAR series champion. He has a reputation for being a bit of a “bad boy,” but when you get to know him, he's a really nice guy.
There is a driver who, despite great success in Cup Series racing, is experiencing a significant change in his situation in 2008. You could even truthfully say he is piloting a completely different stock car.
There is a driver who was literally “born to race.” His father and his father's father before him were legendary competitors on the track. One of them even earned an amazing seven Cup Series championships.
There is a driver who is a Daytona 500 champion. He has gained not only the admiration of his fans, but their absolute adulation. More than once, they have organized themselves and through their concerted energy and efforts, millions of votes have been cast to honor him with NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award.
Of course I’m describing Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kyle Petty and Bill Elliott.
What? Who did you think I was talking about?
At long last, the 2008 Sprint Cup Series season is officially off and running. The Great American Race, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2008, is just that—a really great American race.
If you do happen to encounter the elephant in the garage, please don’t tease him or poke him with a stick or anything like that. Sleeping giants are temperamental; who knows what he might do when he’s wide awake and ready to rock, roll and race?
I guess we'll find out soon enough.
Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations at Darlington Raceway. She currently lives in Florence, SC. Contact her at email@example.com.