No matter what year it is, nor the feeling one may be experiencing at the moment, there is something very consistent when mid-February comes each year. There comes two guarantees with it, the first being that on one day couples get to honor one another more than any time of the year, outside of birthdays and anniversaries.
The second comes just outside an airport, and a nearby beach. This is one consistency that has put a stamp on many careers, and has been the main event for NASCAR for over 60 years.
Does it truly define a career…that is a hard question to answer.
Some may say it does, but others it is a moment that never came to be. Mark Martin tried for years, and came just yards short in a photo finish. Tony Stewart experienced heartbreak a few times, including finishing runner-up. Some are still chasing it despite being in the sport nearly two decades. But did this define their career?
Maybe not, since both Martin and Stewart have Hall of Fame status to showcase that.
There’s some who have won it multiple times, and the thrill of winning it the first time was just as glorious as winning it the second, or the third. Richard Petty won it seven times, and each was different, and each iconic. After all, his most famous win in this race took place after the leaders crashed and handed him the victory. Afterwards, helmets and fists went flying, and the sport was at the forefront of popularity.
Even just one win in a career in this race meant more than any championship could.
It took Dale Earnhardt 20 years, and seven championships, before he could actually call himself a champion in this race. It took heartbreak, after heartbreak, and unfortunate circumstances stole it away from him until 1998, when everything fell his way, from a lucky penny to a timely caution, and a lapped car gave him the win he wanted for so long.
Unexpected winners certainly can happen every now and then. No one expected Michael Waltrip to win in 2001, and certainly his victory got overshadowed with the unfortunate incident that was in his mirror. A year later, no one thought Ward Burton would take the victory in an event that saw one driver exit his car on the backstretch and pull on his fender.
Everyone couldn’t believe when Trevor Bayne found the glass slipper in 2011 and took home this race in only his second-career start.
That is exactly what this race can do for both a career, and a future.
Daytona has that appeal which no one can deny. It draws you in like a magnet to metal, or a mouse to cheese. Winning this race changes lives, and means so much to so many. This year has that same feeling, but the factors outside the actual event are much different.
Yes, it is a sold-out crowd, but it is not sold out in the idea that over 100,000 people will be in the stands roaring loud when the engines fire, or when the green flag waves. It is sold out in the idea of what would be allowed, meaning fewer fans, and the area between those seated is clearly defined.
Qualifying happened, as did the duels, but happened back-to-back, and only a couple practice sessions in between those occurrences.
This event is not going to be like the ones in the years prior, but it still has meaning.
It means the winner has media requirements for the next several days. It means the car that crosses the finish line in victory won’t see another race this season. The car goes on display, with all the confetti and rubber buildup that comes from 500 miles of drafting, passing, and blocking. A huge trophy gets presented, and a new season begins.
We are not just dusting off the 2021 campaign for NASCAR, it is officially time to dust off yet another installment of the Great American Race, the Daytona 500.