Now, I was raised in a house that bled the black No. 3. Every Sunday the TV showed the parade of advertisement soaked race cars driving in circles, and I had a father who would watch while wearing black with his pair of Intimidator-style Oakleys.
The man was die-hard, following Dale Earnhardt, Sr. since he first splashed into the series. Except for that crazy year when he drove a Ford, favorite driver or not, a Chevy man doesn't pull for a Ford.
Growing up, I couldn't really understand it myself. Because Dale Sr. was not very popular, actually, he was hated quite a bit.
In the circles of NASCAR fandom that enveloped my childhood, being an Earnhardt fan was like being on an island. This was the 80's mind you, before the icon status, when Sr. was out kicking everyone out of his way and making a name for himself on the track. A name that was cursed 10 times over by the fandom.
"That guy is dirty!" "That cheatin %&$ just pushes people out of his way!"
Maybe it was just because I was raised in the land of Bill Elliott, who was revered in the way that UGA serves as official mascot and motto.
Either way, being an Earnhardt fan then required a lot of defensive posturing...or flat out boasting.
"YEAH SON!! BUT LOOK HOW HE DRIVES!!!" My Dad would say to people who were not my siblings.
Fast forward to today, and I see the same man on Sundays. The sunglasses remain, and the No. 3 car collection lines hollowed curio cabinet space. But a new car has lined the mantle.
It started as the 5 car. A young kid won a race, and proceeded to call the car junk.
"I like that kid," my dad says.
"But don't you think it's messed up that he won the race but talks crap about the car?"
"YEAH SON, BUT LOOK HOW HE DRIVES!!!"
And so, as the year kept playing out, while everyone was talking about the soap opera that was "As the Junior leaves DEI," the old man was pulling for the top-five guy driving the No. 5.
By the end of the year, the new name dominated the old man's conversation.
"Ya'll need to watch my man Kyle Busch!"
A visit to the Atlanta race the next spring, and although he had a hard time finding the trailer, it was easy enough to get to the front of the line. He bought himself the No. 18 hat.
"Why would you want to wear that? That $#$hole spins out his own brother!"
Maybe it was something more to do with the manufacturer, but leaving the racetrack that day, I have never before seen such a quiet procession of long faces leaving after a race. It was an eery hush amongst the people, the only laughing and fist pumping I can recall, came from the old man in his new 18 cap.
I equate that now to the calm before the proverbial storm, to the coming of when Kyle Busch would begin to kick people out of his way and start to make a name for himself on the track.
A name that has been cursed 10 times over to the old man, he simply laughs, and says: "YEAH SON!!! BUT LOOK HOW HE DRIVES!!!"