Next Sunday is the Daytona 500.
There was a time in my life when I would have ceased all activity on race day and situated myself in front of any available television to watch this grand spectacle of automotive racing.
Yes, there was a time in my life when I was a fan of NASCAR.
Yes, this is the same person who wrote that they fell out of love with the sport of baseball because it was so soul-crushingly slow.
So how did I become a fan of cars festooned with decals turning left?
The answer lies in competition.
This is my story.
At the end of 1999, I was working at a large information technology company in Virginia (that went by the initials EDS) for a project that had a sane assistant project manager (SAPJ) and an almost sane project lead (ASPL).
SAPJ was actually the fellow who hired me at the end of 1998 and we got along fairly well. Around the dawn of 2000, our project was suffering from a bout of low morale due to the whims of our ASPL (did I mention the “almost sane” part of her personality). So SAPJ hit upon the idea of a friendly competition between the members of our team. Since he was a fan of both ESPN (Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) and NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing), he created a fantasy league (named “Ed’s Bar and Grill”) and invited us all to join.
The point of this competition was to select five drivers and points were awarded to you based on how your roster of drivers finished in each race.
So, I signed up for an ESPN Fantasy account and selected my team of five drivers based on completely no criteria whatsoever. Since I had no knowledge of NASCAR or how it worked, I had no idea what drivers to pick so my initial quintet were selected solely based on the numbers of their cars (Ken Schrader in the #36 car was my first pick). It was like I was picking a lottery ticket but without the great odds.
My initial race for this fantasy league was the Daytona 500 and I did as well as a go-kart would have done on the track at Daytona. Schrader did well finishing in 9th, but that was it for the highlights of my crew.
Chastised and embarrassed by my last place position, I decided to do more research and learn more about this new sport.
I read magazine articles and digested web blogs about the cars, the drivers, the teams, and the outfits.
By the end of the season and by the time the Cup was awarded to Bobby Labonte, my new knowledge of auto racing allowed me to finish in the standings at Ed’s Bar and Grill in second-to-last place. I count that as an improvement.
For the next few years, I continued to participate in ESPN fantasy NASCAR leagues and would sit down on various Sundays to watch the pageantry and spectacle of stock car racing. I never fell fully in love with NASCAR as my interest was always pegged to how my five drivers were doing. In those years when I did not sign up in time for a fantasy season, my interest in NASCAR waned.
My interest waned until it is where it is now.
All I know about NASCAR now is that the Daytona 500 is next week. That’s it.
Oh, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Lagano. But, that’s it.
Best of luck to the drivers next week. Best of luck to the pit crews next week. Best of luck to all the spectators next week for a good race.
I won’t be with you next week.
That’s my story.
P.S. If you want to know how a California guy winds up in Virginia to work for a large IT outfit, well…that’s a tale for another day.