The Winning Formula: When Racers and Teams Go For It All
Sports tends to bring out the best (and worst) out of its performers and participants, no matter if it's at the Daytona International Speedway or at Birchmount Stadium. Despite the varying degrees of winning may be with any given competitor, be it with an aggressive, "winner takes all" stance or with the cool and conservative approach, both extremes have the same goal in mind: to win it all.
Usually, it's easy to see that in auto racing, particularly when the stakes are particularly high and when a trophy, not money, is often the ultimate reward. Sure, there's drivers who may strictly rise to the occasion when the millions of dollars on the line. However, there are probably more drivers who would do just about anything to have their name on the trophy mantle and hoist it as a monument of conquering their peers on that given moment.
Take for instance about 15 years ago, when the legendary Dale Earnhardt arrived at the Daytona International Speedway with his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team for what would be his 20th attempt at winning his first Daytona 500. The seven-time champion had pretty much won everything there was in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing except "The Great American Race," but it was certainly not due to a lack of effort.
Earnhardt went for it all every year at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, doing whatever it took to win the race but ultimately falling short in about any conceivable fashion. Finally in 1998, after seeing opportunities taken away by situations like a flat tire, late race crash, as well as insufficient fuel, "The Intimidator" finally had his day in the sun - albeit it happened to occur on a rather ominous overcast Florida day.
Sometimes, that price for winning it all could very well mean the price of one's life, as seen far too many times in auto racing. The same track that Earnhardt conquered during NASCAR's 50th anniversary would claim his life about three years.
Attempting to secure a 1-2-3 Earnhardt-connection finish, Earnhardt made contact with Sterling Marlin, resulting in a head-on impact with the turn three wall as well as a passenger door side crash with Ken Schrader. Although it was a hard crash, it didn't look like the harrowing crashes he had in the late 1990's at the restrictor plate tracks. However, the crash took away the life of one of the sport's biggest stars and legends, a death that's still felt to this day.
Open wheel racing is no stranger to the grim reaper. Dan Wheldon, a beloved IZOD IndyCar Series champion and winner, perished in a horrifying multi-car high speed crash in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. His goal was to win the big race but instead, while marching his way to the front, he got swept up in the crash and his death hit hard with all of his competitors at the track as well as any racing competitor who heard about the tragedy.
NHRA has seen its fair share of tragedies on the track, including the recent deaths of Mark Niver, Neal Parker, Scott Kalitta, John Shoemaker, and Eric Medlen. Safety improvements have greatly enhanced that peace of mind for drivers and crew members in the sport of drag racing, but the dangers still lurk for any racer who straps into their seat and readies themselves for truly the unknown on the track or drag strip.
How willing are all drivers and teams determined to push the line between playing it safe and risking it all just for the checkered flag or the trophy? To say the least, drivers do accept the consequences and dangers inherent in their sport, which is a sport that probably has the most risk involved.
Yes, in recent years, football has come across the horrifying stories of some of its veteran stars struggling and coping with concussions and the after effects of head injuries from years on the field.
Of course, hockey players are easily susceptible to life changing injuries to possibly even death on the rink. Travis Roy's life greatly changed not even 11 seconds into his collegiate hockey career, when he slid head first into the boards after one of his opponents avoided his cheek. His hard hit resulted in the cracking of his fourth and fifth vertebrae, leaving him a quadriplegic.
Whether it's Jeff Gordon or Cassandra Simonton, when a driver straps up and heads out to make a run or prepares for the combat on the asphalt arena, about anything can occur which results in about every possible consequence possible.
Just ask Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who was in contention to win the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship last fall. Biding his time and looking to score a solid finish last October at Talladega, he got collected in a crash that swept up at least 20 other competitors on the last lap. Getting hit in about every corner of his No. 88 Chevrolet, the usually hardy Earnhardt decided to pull out of his car for two races after he suffered his second concussion in nearly as many months (the first concussion occurred in a single car testing crash at Kansas in August).
For those who win, it's the greatest feeling there is possible, with the thought of being healthy and virtually having a perfect day almost an afterthought to the feat of being number one on that day. Others following the winner may just be thankful to leave the track in one piece, to put up a respectable performance, or just to simply have the chance to be there at the track.
Perhaps the most unique thing about racing is that it has all the dramatics and hype that other sports has but in a much faster rate, with scores settled often on that day or perhaps dragged out in another three or four hour marathon. Some fans are still counting on Clint Bowyer to exact revenge on Jeff Gordon following their debacle at Phoenix last November, which harkens to old school racing but in a modern day, corporate setting.
Purists would perhaps desire for a competitive duel between drivers instead of racers who look to clobber their competitor's machine for any reason.
Would the 1992 Indianapolis 500 be a memorable race to fans if Al Unser, Jr. and Scott Goodyear didn't battle to the wire? Imagine if for some reason, there was a history between both drivers and instead of going for the win, they sought to crash the other in order to make them miserable. Personally, that may not be the greatest idea in racing.
Or how about the 2007 Daytona 500, when Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin traded paint for the win? In what was one of the closest ever finishes in NASCAR history, fans perhaps remember that race more for its epic finish rather than it being the moment that started the Kurt Busch-Tony Stewart crashfest that season.
Understandably, racers are going to battle each other and duke it out like their peers before them. Sometimes, being civil and cordial just doesn't cut it and when someone roughs another racer up, tempers are bound to flare up.
In the grand scheme of racing, a little rubbin' is surely racin', but the best kind of racing is when competitors risk it all on the line, putting their 100 percent effort to being the winner, not the exactor who gets liken to a goon in hockey.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines and be ready for the risks: equipment and competitors unable to understand the dangers in racing need not apply.