Feb. 21-- In the wake of Ryan Newman's thrilling, chilling, car-flying, death-defying wreck on the final lap of the Daytona 500, this column is a rallying cry for all of my fellow sports fans.
Watch more NASCAR.
Turn on the TV Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and watch the race out in Vegas. And the week after that, watch 'em run SoCal. And the week after that, they'll be in Phoenix.
Watch them. Applaud them. Admire them.
These awesome, audacious athletes deserve your attention and your eyeballs.
And, yes, I said "athletes." I hope seeing Newman walk out of the hospital with his pair of adorable young daughters in tow just two days after his unnerving crash that you now realize how courageous, skilled and incredibly tough these athletes are. Anybody who continues to denigrate NASCAR drivers by saying "all they have to do is get behind the wheel and turn left" is just being an intentional knucklehead.
As Ernest Hemingway once so eloquently wrote, "Only bullfighting, mountain climbing and auto racing are sports; the rest are merely games."
Hunter S. Thompson once explained the mentality of race car drivers when he wrote, "Faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death."
Racers literally put their lives on the line for our entertainment every single week. They go 200 mph, driving along the edge of that thin line separating victory from calamity. The great English Formula One driver Sir Stirling Moss put it best when said, "To achieve anything in this game, you must be prepared to dabble on the boundary of disaster."
Just ask Newman, who was desperately trying to hold off Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin on the frantic final lap at the Daytona 500 on Monday. Blaney's bumper made contact with Newman, whose car turned, crashed head-on into the wall, flipped onto its roof and got crushed on the driver's side by Corey LaJoie's car. Newman's mangled car skidded across the finish line in flames.
Somehow, someway, through the miracle of structural engineering and the immense strides NASCAR has made in driver safety over the years, Newman was able to escape one of the most terrifying crashes in NASCAR history with no life-threatening injuries.
And here's the thing about NASCAR drivers and the main reason I say they deserve our attention: Would anybody really be surprised if Newman was back in a race car next week? I'm not saying he will be; I'm just saying the "show up for work no matter what" mentality of NASCAR drivers is something sports fans should celebrate in this day and age of baseball pitch counts, basketball load management and PGA Tour golfers playing once every three weeks.
As a sports fan, it's the thing I've always loved about NASCAR. Every race, every week, you know that the top drivers in the sport-if the Good Lord's willing-are going to be out on the track for our viewing pleasure. Tiger Woods doesn't play on the PGA Tour every week, but Jimmie Johnson is driving on the NASCAR circuit. I've heard story after story through the years of drivers who climb behind the wheel of their car no matter what the injury or ailment.
The King, Richard Petty, once raced with a broken neck. And who will ever forget when former driver Ricky Rudd, involved in a serious accident in a qualifying race, drove the next day with his eyes so swollen he taped them open with duct tape? And what about defending NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Busch winning his first championship back in 2015 during a season when he broke his right leg and his left ankle during a crash at Daytona?
Even athletes and coaches from other sports are in awe of how NASCAR drivers go about their business. A few years ago, when then-FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher was the grand marshal of Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, he talked about the guts and grit and the sense of duty and dependability of NASCAR drivers. It was astonishing to me to hear a football coach looking up to another sport's athletes for their toughness and tenacity.
"In NASCAR, they're going to drive whether there's rain, snow or sleet," Fisher said. "It's a sport that is always there for you. You know, these guys are going to show up and race every week. That's why many of us are such huge fans."
Do me a favor.
Turn on the TV this Sunday.
Watch these boys.
They deserve it.
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