Friday, July 4, 2014

This Day: Five Questions for Daytona

Daytona International Speedway. Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images

“The land of the Free, because of the Brave.”
There is much that can be written about this day, the Fourth of July. It represents not only our independence but the things gained from that shift in power. We all pause and bask in the glory that comes with it. It is warm, soothing, and beautiful.
Some believe this day is about a three-day weekend, trip to the lake, and barbecued meat with s’mores for dessert. Others think fireworks and parades. Only a small sliver of the population truly understands what July 4th is meant to do: bring forth the realities we’d rather ignore. The road to creating the present-day United States of America is lined with casualties. From the assassination of presidents to the heroic deaths of soldiers, many lives have been lost for our freedom.
Every day, it happens. Selfless beings are deployed. Wives receive heart-wrenching letters. Men return as veterans, missing limbs and a sense of comfort. Life will never be the same as it was before war entered their lives. They become the war.

This day shouldn’t be sacred for that realization; respecting our military doesn’t need a date. No, this day is sacred because it marks the beginning of a country, one that allows the opportunity to be free.

We wouldn’t be the land of the Free if it weren’t for the valiant Brave.
To all our active and former military: Our country thanks you. Your country thanks you.  

The Fourth of July is a huge deal for the NASCAR community, and it’s not because the Daytona night race is this week. I delve into that, Brad Keselowski, and more in this patriotic edition of Five Questions.

Souvenir Row: Why mess with a good thing? Monday was a robust day in the sport; news of changes to Souvenir Row conjured vibrant opinions from the fans. If you aren’t familiar, Souvenir Row is where all the drivers’ merchandise trailers are lined up. The setup allows fans to go to one after the other, meeting other buyers along the way. As with much of NASCAR’s traditional aspect, this one may be replaced with a more modern twist. NASCAR is thinking about replacing the haulers with tented stores, similar to what the PGA does with their memorabilia. There are some benefits to this, such as shade, but this isn’t a good idea. Not only is it messing with an otherwise OK thing, the changing attitude is misplaced; if the issue is that people aren’t buying t-shirts and mugs, pricing could be the problem, but I believe it’s linked to dying attendance. Fix the root of problem, and Souvenir Row can stay rightfully intact.
Is Keselowski the new big man on campus? The night race at Kentucky Speedway resulted in a Brad Keselowski win. The 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion was stout all weekend. As he went on to celebrate and slice his hand open, multiple media sources noted his personality and confidence level. They likened it to how he acted during 2012, before he won his championship. With all of this in mind, is it possible that he has (somewhat quietly) become a serious contender? Team Penske is the strongest Ford team at the moment, collecting four wins this season.

Will this new tropical system affect racing at Daytona? Of course, Mother Nature has to have a role in one of the greatest races of the year. Daytona Beach, Florida is known for restrictor plate racing, partying and beautiful beaches. There might not be any of that this weekend. Hurricane Arthur has formed off the coast of Florida. The actual path of the storm is predicted to turn and run parallel to the East Coast. However, the disturbed atmosphere it leaves behind can conjure severe thunderstorms. Everyone do the anti-rain dance just in case.
If all contracts ended right now, who would be sweating? Daytona International Speedway can either make or break a driver’s season when they visit at the season’s beginning and midpoint. Some drivers are hoping to continue success, while some are just hoping to finish the race. So, I’m wondering what would happen if all team contracts were dropped, who would be dropped? I have one driver in mind: Dylan Kwasniewski. His personality is fresh and new. The results, though, are not in his favor. It would be a tough time for him. I see his appeal, and this could be rookie stuff, but the cost has to be adding up.
How do NASCAR drivers benefit from helping military veterans? NASCAR might be the most patriotic sport out there. There are numerous driver foundations linked to the military, paint schemes that don red, white, and blue, and personal connections between racers and soldiers. With the Armed Forces Foundation, Kurt Busch has befriended many veterans. Keselowski takes his victory laps with an American flag. This sport thrives on emotion, and that’s what pushes these drivers to reach out to soldiers. Not only is it good from a publicity standpoint, but it keeps them humble. You can feel like you’re on top of the world when you race fast cars for a living, and it can get to your head. But when you meet someone who lost their legs, it puts things into perspective. That’s the true benefit from NASCAR’s military connections.

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