Friday, December 3, 2010

Four Seasons and Counting: The Emotional Roller Coaster of Being a David Ragan Fan



David Ragan and I after a Q & A session at Bristol in August.
“He’s one of the worst drivers in NASCAR.”…“I don’t see how he’s managed to keep his ride.”…“He couldn’t win a race even if he was the only driver on the track.”…“All he does is wreck.”

How would you feel if those kinds of comments were made about your favorite driver on a weekly—sometimes daily—basis? I don’t know about you, but sometimes those kinds of things make me angry. Sometimes, when the negative remarks are relentless, all I want to do is find a corner to sit and cry. As NASCAR fans, we all deal with that kind of taunting no matter who our favorite driver is. It comes with the territory. However, there comes a time when you’ve just had enough. After three years, I’m making a stand. I may be just one fan, but I’m here to say I proudly support David Ragan and the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team.

In 2007, Ragan became a full-time driver in the Cup Series when he took over the No. 6 Ford when Mark Martin left Roush Fenway Racing. Being a Roush Fenway Racing fan, I was excited about a new driver for the team. He won me over from the finish of his first race of his rookie season. He finished 5th in his first Daytona 500. However, what looked like a promising career for the young driver has turned into up and down seasons that have left the team looking for consistency.
For three years, I’ve watched him hit the lowest of lows and then bounce right back. Sure, he has yet to win a race, but does that necessarily mean he’s a terrible driver? I say no. It’s no secret that Lady Luck has not been kind to Ragan. Maybe she’s the one who sends that little black cloud to follow him for some races. Despite the lack of great finishes and no wins, Ragan has continued to persevere. It’s his determination to give his all every race day that captivated me from the beginning.
Of course, it has not been easy being the fan of a struggling driver. There have been days where I have watched a driver take the checkered flag at a race that I thought for sure Ragan had a chance to win. For the first time ever(and it’s hard for me to admit this), I was reduced to tears when he never even came close to winning a race that I had convinced myself he would win earlier this season. Not every race has left me brokenhearted and upset though. There have been days where I cheered from the chair in my aunt’s living room as he took the lead during a race or finished inside the top 10 when it was all over.

Then there’s that one day…that one truly amazing day, when Ragan won the Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2009. I was in the stands that day, and I guarantee you that I was the happiest person alive at that very moment. Okay, maybe Ragan was happier, but still, I was celebrating in the stands like there was no tomorrow. I realize that, to some, a Nationwide win isn’t exactly a Cup win, but that night, I really couldn’t have cared less what series he had just won in. All that mattered was that I was there to see him make a trip to Victory Lane.

Bristol is also where I had the chance to meet him. I went to a Q & A session he had at the track in August of this year. Unlike most of the other race fans who had come to the Q & A session, I had no intentions of getting an autograph from him once it was over. I simply wanted to have my picture taken with him. When I asked if he would take the picture with me, he did something I definitely was not expecting. He asked me to wait as he continued to sign autographs. It was his way of thinning the crowd out so he could take the picture. There I was…with just him and my best friend once he had finished signing autographs. I couldn’t help but think that he was so unlike other drivers. Most would have taken the picture the second I asked, then gone right on to signing more autographs. Not Ragan. He took the picture, and even offered to sign an autograph for my best friend who I had asked to come with me. There were so many things I wanted to say to him while I had the chance, but instead, I thanked him for taking the picture and then wished him luck in the race that was to be run the next day.

As I walked away, I began to wonder just how anyone could be mean to someone as nice as Ragan. Being on Twitter and Facebook, I have seen some people say some terrible things about him. Not to mention the multiple times I have read things people have said to him on there. It absolutely breaks my heart to think he sees those comments.

To the fans who ridicule Ragan, I ask you this: Are you only judging him by his statistics? Or are you like some fans I know who still hold a grudge against him because he has wrecked your favorite driver (something that is the result of pure accident close to 99% of the time) more than once? If so, maybe it is time you took a moment to see if you can see in him what I saw from the very beginning. During the next race, keep your eyes on that No. 6 Ford. Ragan refuses to give up. He and his team never consider backing down. When he crashes during a race and damages the racecar, his team will give it their all to get him back out on the track if there is even the slightest chance they can finish the race. If the team is having a bad day, they do everything possible to turn it around. When things hit rock bottom, they look to the next race to do better.

I know Ragan has what it takes to be a winner, and one day a champion. He fights as hard, if not harder, than any other driver on the circuit to get a good finish every race. As long as he and his team never give up, I won’t either. Even if there comes a day when the team has lost all hope, I will continue to stand strong. I refuse to give up on him just because he is going through a rough time. What kind of fan would I be if I did?

I believe with all my heart that next season he can start making the naysayers realize just how good he really is. He can—scratch that, he will—get that first Cup win next year (and hopefully more than just that one!). Many believe that he will be gone from Roush Fenway after 2011 if he doesn’t become a frontrunner next season. I honestly have no answer to whether he will stay after next season if he fails to impress. I really hope it doesn’t come to that. Nothing would devastate me more than to see him have to leave the team. I want to see Ragan excel beyond measure next year and find his place in the spotlight….a place he’s fought so hard to find in these past four seasons.

If next year is going to be an emotional rollercoaster like the last three have been, I’ll be fastening the belts tight and holding on for the ride. I’ll be ready and willing to cheer my heart out for David Ragan every race day.

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