Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Motor Mouth: Reliving the Fairy Tale of the Daytona 500


Trevor Bayne and members of the No. 21 team celebrate in the infield
after winning this year's Daytona 500. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)
The racecar looked comfortably familiar, with its historic number and paint scheme, but it was a fresh face who emerged after crossing the finish line in this year’s Daytona 500. When Trevor Bayne won the Great American Race in the Wood Brothers’ iconic No. 21 Ford, it was the perfect juxtaposition of NASCAR’s past with its future. Sunday’s presentation of the new documentary “The Daytona 500: The American Dream” transported myself and other viewers back to that exciting day in February.

The documentary, produced by the NASCAR Media Group, capably filled in the programming hole left by the first off-weekend in the Sprint Cup schedule. With commentary provided by the NASCAR broadcasters, pit reporters and the drivers themselves, “The American Dream” looks back on the race considered by many to be the most exciting Daytona 500 in history.

The special’s purpose was two-fold: it covered the highlights of the race, provided inside commentary from those who were there and triggered a rush of memories for longtime fans of the sport, while serving to introduce many of the sport’s leading drivers as well as the faces in the broadcast booth to new fans.

And of course, there was Trevor Bayne. It was the beginning of America’s fascination with the fresh-faced driver who had become the youngest ever to win NASCAR’s Super Bowl, turning 20 the day before. After Bayne’s solid performance during Speedweeks, gaining credibility when four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon trusted him enough to draft with him, FOX zeroed in on Bayne during their Daytona 500 broadcast. “This was someone America should get to know,” commentator Chris Myers said. And when the checkered flag wave, they would.

It was intriguing to hear Bayne describe himself in the beginning of the special as a “normal kid” who never sits still, partaking in snowboarding, playing guitar and kayaking. How many “normal kids” do you know who win the Daytona 500?

But that’s what makes Bayne so refreshing. “Trevor is a really good kid, good head on his shoulders,” said his racing hero and drafting partner Gordon.

Bayne’s faith is an important part of his life, and the documentary played the clip of him praying with his team on the scanner before the race started. The moment touched three-time champion and broadcaster Darrell Waltrip, who right away was impressed with the 20-year-old’s composure.

Bayne and his team members hold up the Daytona 500 trophy
in victory lane. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Not only was Bayne a “good kid,” but one with a very fast car. As the two-car tandems became the preferred dance on the newly repaved Daytona, many sought Bayne as a partner. Gordon paired up with him before the No. 24 became a casualty of “the Big One,” and afterward Bayne teamed with fellow Ford Racing driver David Ragan.

“(Bayne) had the best car on the speedway,” Ragan said.

When the first green-white-checkered flew, it seemed like Ragan was in line to become the Daytona 500’s next winner. But his costly mistake would put things in motion for Bayne. Ragan crossed lanes before the start-finish line, and in a move that shocked many, he was black-flagged by NASCAR.

All of a sudden, Bayne, who had been comfortable being the pusher, now found himself the leader.

“I never expected to take the lead that early,” Bayne admitted. “Everything I had planned, the way I had planned it to work out, didn’t happen.”

With a push from past Cup champion Bobby Labonte, Bayne took the lead and never looked back. Despite an inspired effort by Carl Edwards to catch Bayne, the No. 21 was simply too fast. And the fairy tale was born.

Viewers got to relive Bayne’s cries of joy: “Are you kidding me?” “Am I dreaming right now?” “I don’t even know where to go!” he said, laughing as he realized he didn’t know where victory lane was.

It was a day that no matter who you were rooting for, you could smile and be truly happy for this young man’s incredible victory with one of the sport’s oldest teams.

One of my favorite parts of the documentary was a montage of other drivers in their racecars reacting to Bayne’s win. I actually found myself rewinding to watch it again and again. It was a mix of disbelief and awe, from drivers whose careers were barely older than Bayne’s was to those who had been racing before he was even born:

Kurt Busch: “Did the rookie win?” (later we see him congratulating Bayne in victory lane)
Joey Logano: “You gotta be kidding me!” (give or take a bleep)
Jimmie Johnson: “Un-freaking believable!”
Jeff Gordon: “Pretty cool, man, what happened for him.”
And Mark Martin, who has come close oh so many times to winning the 500: “That is incredible.”

If I couldn’t watch a race on Sunday, this documentary was the next best thing. It may have been only a month ago, but it honestly felt good to relive one of the most intense races and feel-good victories in recent memory.

If you missed “The Daytona 500: The American Dream,” you can catch it when it reruns this Saturday on SPEED at 10 p.m. ET.

“Motor Mouth” is a weekly column where Skirts and Scuffs lead editor Rebecca Kivak spouts off about her favorite subject, NASCAR. Keep the conversation going by leaving your comments below.

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