October 17, 2008
Victory celebration; the incredible champagne moment that we stay to the bitter end to be a part of is truly the icing on the cake of any sporting event.
I secretly live vicariously through the driver's victories because no matter the merriment I have experienced in my own life, none of them have involved the spraying of champagne.
I would LOVE to celebrate something so huge that would justify the waste of perfectly good alcohol. The kind of slow motion hullabaloo where everyone is laughing and cheering, slapping each other on the backs, corks popping and glorious steams of sparkling wine are showering from every direction.
NASCAR knows how to celebrate those "champagne moments" with style.
We know the drivers who have mastered the art of the burnout or donuts in the infield, but a handful of drivers really know how to kick it up a notch when it comes to their own festivities.
One of the most recognizable driver celebrations is the signature back flip of Carl Edwards.
In 1988 Alan Kulwicki celebrated his win in Phoenix by driving a clockwise victory lap, giving life to what would come to be known as "The Polish Victory Lap," a tradition that most drivers carry on to this day.
Another tradition began in 1999 at the Brickyard 400. After Dale Jarrett won the race, his crew chief Todd Parrot suggested that the entire crew kneel at the finish line, turn their caps backwards and simultaneously kiss the bricks.
In 2005 after winning the Pepsi 400, Tony Stewart became known for his fence climbs stating, "I figured that I had better do that now before I get too fat. As long as the fans like it as much as they seem to and as long as I can pull it off, I will keep doing it."
Kyle Busch does the amazing "Smoke Trick." Rowdy has mastered a specialized burnout that creates a wall of tire smoke after which he magically appears out of the top of it, perched in the driver's side window ready to give a victory bow.
After winning at Talladega in 2003 Michael Waltrip's NAPA Chevrolet came to rest in the infield in front of a sea of adorning fans who waited eagerly for the window net to drop. Instead Michael popped off his roof hatch and sprung out of the top of the car like an over-sized Jack-in-the box.
In 1994 Jeff Gordon climbed onto the roof of his car in Victory Lane after winning the Coca Cola 600 and bawled like a baby! A blubbering driver was something that NASCAR fans had never seen before. Gordon still gets grief about it to this day, but is quick to defend himself "I don't regret it at all, I wasn't the only one crying out of happiness that night."
While there have been many memorable triumphs, there are two in particular that will forever remain etched into my psyche. The kind of victory and celebration that literally bring you to tears and like Jeff Gordon, you don't care who you do it in front. You will never regret the tears of joy shed for that moment.
1. Dale Earnhardt winning the 1998 Daytona 500.
It took him 20 years to get to Daytona's Victory Lane, but when he did it instantly went down in history as one of the most heartfelt, respected victories ever seen.
Deafening cheers rose out of the stands from 170,000 fans as he carved a "3" into the grass of the infield with celebratory donuts then climbed on top of his car and stood with arms reaching high into the heavens. He had finally done it, he had won "the big one."
Every crew member from every team lined up to congratulate "The Intimidator" as he slowly made his way down the length of Pit Road, high-fiving every outstretched hand. He met the press with a stuffed monkey in hand, as the media surrounded him he threw it into the crowd and yelled "There! Now that monkey is finally off my back!"
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the 2001 Pepsi 400.
Dale Jr. had returned to the same track that had taken his father just five months earlier, no one knew what to expect that day but collectively as a NASCAR nation we all wished upon the same star.
I remember this day like it was yesterday. A few friends and I made our way to the ESPN Zone in Washington, DC a couple of hours before the race to secure the comfy leather recliners that sat directly in front of the big screen. We passed the time with pitchers of beer and chatting with other NASCAR fans.
The crowd erupted into a frenzy during the last few laps as Jr. rocketed from the 6th position to overtake the lead. As Michael Waltrip eased in behind him things began to fall into place. Dale Jr. had finished second to Waltrip, helping to secure his win in February's Daytona 500, now Waltrip was seizing the opportunity to pay it forward.
As Bill Weber announced "Dale Earnhardt Jr. has just won the Pepsi 400!" I immediately burst into tears. It was a perfectly perfect winning moment, one that I had never experienced like that before and I'm quite sure I will never experience again.
Everyone in the bar was an Earnhardt Jr. fan for at least the last two minutes of that race. I toasted victory and hugged on total strangers that afternoon. We smiled wide and wiped tears off each other's cheeks. I was in the perfect place, watching the perfect race, with my perfect driver. The only place I would have rather been that day would have been in the stands of Daytona.
The champagne moment happened after Dale Jr. climbed from his car in the grassy infield still wearing his All-Star baseball themed helmet and stood in his driver's side window pumping his fists into the air. Michael Waltrip pulled in next to him. As Dale made his way to Michael's car he was greeted with a bear hug by Chocolate Myers, the famed gasman of Dale Earnhardt's Goodwrench Chevrolet team. A mob of hundreds gathered around the cars, including the media, NASCAR officials and all three of the DEI crews.
Michael climbed onto the roof of the NAPA Chevrolet and silently celebrated his own Daytona win that was overshadowed by the death of Dale Earnhardt. Junior soon followed, the two friends spoke, clinched each other tightly and waved to the crowd.
NASCAR officials moved the celebration to Victory Lane but not before Junior stage-dived off of Waltrip's car and crowd surfed his way back to his No.8 machine.
Reporters pressed Dale Jr. to recall his father, to which he replied, “I dedicate this win to him. I mean, there ain’t nobody else I could dedicate it to that would mean more to me."
That statement forever sealed his victory as one of the most emotional that NASCAR fans had ever seen.
Fox sports.com referenced for this article