Friday, August 9, 2013

The Fire of a Racer: Five Questions for Watkins Glen

Credit: By John Harrelson, Getty Images for NASCAR
What is a passion? Is it a hobby?

Or is it a way of life, something in your soul and veins that cannot be erased?

There are some things we are born with, and there are some things we acquire. In my eyes, a passion is an irreversible trait that turns into a pastime. You spend the rest of your life cultivating it, nursing it, dressing it up for the first day of Kindergarten. There is nothing more heartwarming than seeing what makes your motor run shine.

I wouldn’t be the same person without writing. That’s something I know for a fact. If someone asked me to describe what writing means to me, I would hand them a blank sheet of paper.

Ironically enough, there aren’t words to convey those emotions. It’s those passions that can’t be explained that are the grandest.

Kinda like Tony Stewart’s love of dirt racing.

A racer’s fire is one only understood by his peers, ones who share the exact same flame. The broken bones, the crashed cars, the marred mentalities are all eclipsed by what really matters: getting in that racecar.

Stewart is a rare find, a balance of grounded roots and Hollywood spark. Racing on weeknights is what he does for himself. It’s how he gets away from the NASCAR life, the ownership struggles.

It’s his passion. Who are we to tell him to give that up?

If he could do it all over again, I know Stewart wouldn’t have done anything differently. He would’ve raced that night. He would’ve been leading again, too.

I hope Stewart’s leg heals as quickly as humanly possible. I applaud him for staying with his love when everyone else advised him it was a bad idea.

There’s no way I can hate someone who follows their heart like that. I just can’t.

In this edition of Five Questions, I talk about Max Papis, pitting, road course ringers and more. Read on, my passion runs deep in this one.

How does Papis do in the No. 14? Max Papis is known for his road course talents, and he’ll get to shine this weekend while filling in for Stewart. It’s reasonable to bet he’ll be near the front, but it all depends on his equipment. Stewart-Haas Racing has had a rollercoaster year, one that is now focused on getting Ryan Newman a ride for next season. If the best stuff is going to him, then what will be handed to Papis? Maybe his expertise can make that "good" car a "fantastic" car.

Who will fill in for Stewart after this weekend? This question has been floating around ever since Papis was confirmed to be a one-race substitute. Names like Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon and Regan Smith have been tossed around. The problem with those drivers is that they’re focused on the Nationwide Series and the points right now. I would think whoever fills in for Stewart would be someone who has a free schedule and could remain competitive throughout the races. The three I would throw out there are Kenny Wallace, Bobby Labonte and maybe Smith if Nationwide is at the same track.

Will backwards pitting be a driver’s downfall? One of the many unique aspects about Watkins Glen is that the drivers enter pit road at the opposite end, putting the right side of the car next to the pit wall instead of the left. This sets the crews up for a strategy switch, which results in problems most of the time. Not only is the pressure on them, but it’s also on the driver. The switch may cause a driver to slide through his stall or pit outside the lines. Pit road is a jungle, but this just adds another layer to slice and dice through.

Are the road course ringers becoming irrelevant? Road courses are known for being a platform, one that twist and turn savants use to rise to the top. They are in their element. However, they have become obsolete over time, like a sundial or a rotary phone. It’s not that their talent has been overlooked, but rather, it’s the fact that other drivers are adapting. In this day and age, every race counts, and that’s noticeable. Teams have been enlisting those ringers to run their road course setups and give feedback. They’re valuable in that aspect, but during race time? The hungry racers that drive every weekend take over.

Could we ever understand the fire of a racer? As I said before, those who have the same fire as Stewart completely understand his decision to run Sprint cars. Those in the dark? The media and the fans. It’s the media’s job to hear the driver out and present that to the fans so they can be informed. The problem is this big disconnect between the drivers and the fans, no matter how hard the media tries to stitch the gap shut. Sometimes the best thing is to never understand it. That’s the raw beauty of a passion.

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