Fueled by devotion is the three-hour morality play that evolves in fast forward every weekend. Cheer the hero. Boo the villain. (And in many cases, that's interchangeable, depending on your favorite.) Who will fate smile on this week? Will it be the favorite? The underdog? Will it be a rout or a last-lap shootout? The storyline is different every time the green flag falls, and yet it plays out in a comfortably familiar way, no matter if it's the Daytona 500 or the night race at Bristol.
Throw the stereotypes out the window when it comes to today's NASCAR. The fans who follow NASCAR are as unique as snowflakes, as varied as shades of green on a tree. For every one who drives a pickup truck to the track, there's another who got there on a private jet. For every two-man tent pitched in the infield, there's a million-dollar motorhome parked next to it.
Fueled by devotion is understanding the sometimes odd and incomprehensible lexicon of NASCAR. Loose. Tight. Stagger. Drafting. Aero push. Coil binding. Pass-through penalties. The lucky dog. Taking a round out of the track bar. Adding a half-pound in the right rear.
A NASCAR race is an assault on the senses. The smell of burning rubber. The taste of a Martinsville hot dog. The rumble that shakes every cell of your body when the pack roars by at Daytona. The kaleidoscope of color that flashes past the grandstands so quickly that you can't stare straight ahead and make out anything but a multi-hued blur.
Fueled by devotion is about the sound. The excitement of the public address announcer during the pre-race driver introductions. The national anthem. The fly-bys. The command of "gentlemen, start your engines!" And then the engines. For 500 miles, iron and steel comes to life and propels the driver -- and the fan -- along at a breakneck pace, on the knife's edge of control, lap after lap. There's a reason why the seats at a NASCAR race rarely get used.
Some claim fans come just to see the wrecks. But it's more likely they come to see common men do uncommon things, to escape imminent danger with the flick of the steering wheel, the touch of the brakes, the feathering of the accelerator. It's the opportunity to watch the most accomplished artists perform high-energy choreography from the center stage, whether that's in person or from the comfort of the couch. And the show never loses its ability to astound or amaze.
Fueled by devotion is the bond between the man on the track and the man in the stands. Who's your driver? He may be from your hometown. He may be from another country. Maybe you chose him because of what he's done in the past, or what he'll do in the future. Maybe you like his style. Maybe you like his attitude. Maybe you like his looks. He may be a peach-fuzzed kid or a grizzled veteran, a virtual unknown hoping for his first victory or a superstar who lists Victory Lane as his home address. He may even be a she.
But once a NASCAR fan decides on a favorite driver, it's a long-term relationship, through thick and thin, happiness and heartbreak. From that point on, the world can't be viewed by anything but rose-colored glasses, or perhaps shades of blue, orange, red or green. The team is not just a driver behind the steering wheel, a crew chief on the pit box and a pit crew behind the wall. His fans are definitely a part as well. And when a driver reaches heights perhaps thought to be unattainable, his followers are there to climb up there with him.
Fueled by devotion is a tip of the cap to acknowledging the history of the sport. It's a relationship forged on a first-name basis: Lee. Buck. Fonty. Joe. Richard. David. Cale. LeeRoy. Bobby. Donnie. Dale. Darrell. Rusty. Jeff. Jimmie. Tony. Mark. Kasey. Juan. Joey. Nicknames are part of the secret code that links fans across the generations. The King. The Intimidator. The Silver Fox. The Alabama Gang. Awesome Bill. The Rapid Roman. The High Plains Drifter. Jaws. Swervin' Irvin. Wonder Boy.
Cars long since relegated to museums and junkyards remain fresh in the memories of the fans who witnessed their successes and failures. The Fabulous Hudson Hornet. The Red Devil. The Gray Ghost. The Chrysler 300. The Purple Hogs. The Black Widows. The Chrysler Hemis. The Torino. The Superbird. The AMC Matador. Thunderbird. Monte Carlo. Mercury. Buick. Oldsmobile. Pontiac.
There are moments etched in the minds of NASCAR fans that can never be erased by the passage of time, particularly in the sport's premier event, the Daytona 500. Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp in a photo-finish in '59. Richard and David in '76. Yarborough and Allison in '79. Waltrip's victory dance in '89. And Earnhardt, finally overcoming two decades of bad luck and ill fortune with his win in 1998.
NASCAR has evolved from the dusty dirt and clay bullrings of yesterday to the speed palaces of today. The names alone conjure images of doorhandle-to-doorhandle battles and thrilling victories: The Beach Course. The Rock. The Lady in Black. The Monster Mile. Atlanta. Charlotte. Pocono. Bristol. Talladega. Daytona. Each is special in its own right, with unique characteristics and histories. And the fans who flock there every season understand that, and cherish their chance to witness history up close.
As long as there are fans fueled by devotion, NASCAR will continue to exist. Who knows? Some future fan, one perhaps not even born, may discover some future driver and the bond will be forged anew.
|David Reutimann||Michael Waltrip Racing|
|Jamie McMurray||Earnhardt Ganassi Racing|
|Kurt Busch||Penske Racing|
|Mark Martin||Hendrick Motorsports|
|David Ragan||Roush Fenway Racing|
|Robby Gordon||Robby Gordon Motorsports|
|Bobby Labonte||Phoenix Racing|
|Kasey Kahne||Richard Petty Motorsports|
|Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|Brad Keselowski||Penske Racing|
|Tony Stewart||Stewart-Haas Racing|
|Greg Biffle||Roush Fenway Racing|
|Matt Kenseth||Roush Fenway Racing|
|Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|Elliott Sadler||Richard Petty Motorsports|
|Joey Logano||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|Bill Elliott||Wood Brothers Racing|
|Jeff Gordon||Hendrick Motorsports|
|Kevin Harvick||Richard Childress Racing|
|Jeff Burton||Richard Childress Racing|
|Clint Bowyer||Richard Childress Racing|
|John Andretti||Front Row Motorsports|
|Travis Kvapil||Front Row Motorsports|
|Mike Bliss||Tommy Baldwin Racing|
|Johnny Sauter||Tommy Baldwin Racing|
|Casey Mears||Tommy Baldwin Racing|
|Kevin Conway||Front Row Motorsports|
|David Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports|
|Ryan Newman||Stewart-Haas Racing|
|Juan Montoya||Earnhardt Ganassi Racing|
|A.J. Allmendinger||Richard Petty Motorsports|
|J.J. Yeley||Whitney Motorsports|
|Marcos Ambrose||JTG-Daugherty Racing|
|Jimmie Johnson||Hendrick Motorsports|
|Michael McDowell||Prism Motorsports|
|Martin Truex Jr.||Michael Waltrip Racing|
|Dave Blaney||Prism Motorsports|
|Mike Bliss||TRG Motorsports|
|Sam Hornish Jr.||Penske Racing|
|Regan Smith||Furniture Row Racing|
|Scott Speed||Red Bull Racing Team|
|Brian Vickers||Red Bull Racing Team|
|Joe Nemechek||NEMCO Motorsports|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Hendrick Motorsports|
|Scott Riggs||Keyed-Up Motorsports|
|Paul Menard||Richard Petty Motorsports|
|Carl Edwards||Roush Fenway Racing|