Like any other sport, NASCAR has its cast in each of its 36 performances with the drivers, crew members, officials, and media.
Each of these characters, if you will, have certain roles to fulfill much in the vein of a Broadway play.
For instance, Kyle Busch is supposed to be the antagonist to the current guard of this particular racing series, often chastised for his antics during any given race weekend.
Mark Martin is the media's darling of a man defying Father Time. Whether fans choose to embrace his image or not, this 50-year-old sentimental favorite has been quite the story of NASCAR in 2009.
Jeff Gordon is the polarized legend who once represented the great change of the NASCAR of the past, which was once a gritty, hard-nosed, Southern circus.
What's NASCAR today? It's Madison Avenue on wheels, speeding around the high banks of Daytona and Talladega at nearly 200 miles per hour.
Fortune 500 companies are represented on 3,400 lb. machines on America's finest race courses. Admit it, seeing Mars Candy's M&M brand compete alongside the likes of DuPont, Miller Brewing Company, or Procter & Gamble's Old Spice deodorant line is quite a unique experience.
Drivers look like B-star models with groomed looks, tailored uniforms, and polished speeches that almost lack the vividness and character that was once prevalent in this racing series.
Hell, even the cars hardly resemble the machines our daddies watched with wonder and amazement.
Not so long ago, Detroit's automobile industry was represented on the track with steel chariots that resembled the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Ford Thunderbird, or even the dreadful Dodge Magnum.
Even if the bumpers weren't truly chrome or the cars lacked an air conditioning system or an AM/FM radio unit, these vehicles could fool even the most avid of car enthusiasts.
Today, save for the decals and driver/team association, stock cars hardly resemble their counterparts on the streets.
Can you honestly tell the differences of the Chevrolet Impala SS, Ford Fusion, Dodge Charger R/T, or the Toyota Camry?
I won't even get started on how despicable the current cars look with their wings and front splitters.
My point is, with all the complaints we have about the state of NASCAR, it's always going to be loved by the fans.
Now before you say, "Rob, thanks for stating the obvious (like you have in your past 90 articles)!," consider the following:
- Sure, the Car of Tomorrow is one ugly looking piece of...you-know-what, but it has done wonders in lessening the devastating injuries that Cup drivers could have experienced in the past three seasons.
- It's made the playing field of the sport so close, you'd feel like you're suffocating from awesomeness (or in the drivers' case, real estate).
- Longevity is the name of the game as far as the health and medical mindset goes with the participants of the sport.
Am I going cynical? Is someone giving me NASCAR's wonderfully shaded glasses that are officially endorsed by the powers that be of Mike Helton and the France family?
However, the COT did its job once again over the weekend at Watkins Glen. Gordon, Jeff Burton, and Sam Hornish Jr. were involved in a grinding crash that devastated their multi-million dollar machines.
While their cars may be lost or possibly salvaged given some time, what's most important is that those three drivers survived the crash with minimal injury.
In the case of Gordon, the COT has probably extended his career for five years. Given that he races competitively and doesn't crash frequently, his daughter Ella will definitely be able to recall the days that her famous father drove the No. 24 car.
Also, it's really brought back the challenge for these drivers.
How many racers, even the elites like a Tony Stewart, Busch, or Jimmie Johnson have openly praised how "beautifully" these cars handle on a consistent basis?
Almost as frequently as men with mustaches are trusted by any member of society (just kidding....maybe).
Not since the days that the not so aerodynamic Luminas, T-Birds, or Pontiac Grand Prix models have teams been doled with ill handling beasts that often physically strain a driver, no matter the track.
Just as pit stops were enhanced to the point that crew members bought gym memberships to keep in shape, drivers are now monitoring their physique to wrestle with their cars.
Then again, Tony Stewart defies that notion to the 14th power, bearing semblance to Paul McCartney if he chose to quit the vegetarian regime he's lived by since his Fab Four days.
NASCAR will never die, even if it's filled with the least familiar of names whose only association to today's stars are familial lines or business associations.
So yes, I was not around to see the glorious days of Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, David Pearson, and Buddy Baker dueling in their not so souped up cars.
On that tangent, I'm quite certain that their fans possibly felt that the sport might not be as exciting once their heroes behind the wheels retired from competition.
Much like that Lion King tune sung by Sir Elton John, NASCAR surely endures its version of "The Circle Of Life."
As the prolific songwriter and musical artist said, "...it's a wheel of fortune, it's a leap of fate to see."
Seemingly every year, we fans wonder, marvel, and appreciate what each generation of racers and competitors deliver to us, whether we saw a quality race or a parade.
Each cycle has that one great who captivates us, whether we admire or disrespect that driver as merely the facet on the track.
Just as the NBA had the changing of the guards from the dominators of the hard-court with Bob Cousy and Wilt Chamberlain to stars like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the past, NASCAR has also produced such eras.
Arguably, pioneers like Petty, Waltrip, Earnhardt, and Yarborough had their times as members of NASCAR's royalty. Their kingdom was the tracks, the serfs were their opponents, and their greatest nemesis was time.
Lately, I've been finding myself intrigued and pulled by the works of The Beatles as a group and through their solo projects.
It seems to strike many chords (again, no pun intended) with NASCAR, just as a tall glass of milk is quite complete once an Oreo cookie has been dunked inside it.
In trying to find the words to close my latest article, as well as the perfect ending to sum my thoughts on the state of NASCAR, I guess the only way to put it is through the words of the late George Harrison.
Now the darkness only stays the night-time,
In the morning it will fade away.
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time.
It's not always going to be this grey.
All things must pass,
All things must pass away.
All things must pass,
All things must pass away.
We may have lost future faces like Adam Petty and Tony Roper, an establishing figure in Kenny Irwin Jr., and "The Man In Black" aka Dale Earnhardt.
Their legacy and spirit will live on forever, just as the music of the incredibly talented Harrison has graced our world since 1963.
It is not always going to be this grey indeed.