Reality obviously means a lot of different things to different people. For some, reality means TV shows that show people competing against each other on a far away island, or trying to convince a panel of judges that they can sing or perform some other stage act. Reality might also mean a serious health problem, lack of money to pay the rent or mortgage, or losing a job you thought would last a lifetime.
Reality in NASCAR can be just as difficult to define as it is in anyone’s normal, everyday life. NASCAR drivers are measured by an infinite number of yard sticks, but most agree that the number of wins or championships a driver has achieved is usually concrete evidence of a driver’s ability, and his standing in the sport.
Reality also means that many drivers who have never won a major championship or many races in the sport’s elite series have also had a huge impact on the sport. Take Mark Martin, for instance. Mark has yet to win a Sprint Cup championship, but is one of the few members of the so called ‘old school’ class of drivers to whom many other drivers are compared. Mark generally behaves as a gentleman both on and off the track, and that simply cannot be said about some other drivers, young or old.
Take Morgan Shepherd. Can you name a race that the man has won in NASCAR? I can’t either. Morgan, however, has made his mark in the world, and in life by helping people less fortunate than him. If you want to know what a true living angel is, look no farther than Morgan Shepherd.
Kyle Petty has won a few Cup races, but Kyle will long be remembered for his efforts to help children at Victory Junction Gang Camp far longer than his driving ability will be remembered. Kyle says he was inspired by his son, Adam, who died tragically at New Hampshire in 2000, but truth be told, I think Kyle has always had it in his heart, and to me, he’s one of NASCAR’s greatest people, ever. Kyle has truly given back, not only to the sport he loves, but to people that could have never experienced such joy and fun, were it not for his kindness and generosity. If NASCAR gave out an award for person of the decade, I would nominate Kyle Petty.
In other sports, I just heard today that two NBA players who play for the Washington Wizards drew guns on each other in the locker room on Christmas Eve, either before, during, or after a game. We’re talking teammates here. Such seems to be the culture of the National Basketball Association. Can you imagine Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon squaring off with pistols in the garage at your favorite NASCAR venue? Merry Christmas, NBA. I have not watched an NBA game in well over a decade, and don’t plan to for several decades in the future. The NBA just exemplifies why I think NASCAR is the greatest sport in the world. NASCAR is about family and loyalty. Normal, everyday family members don’t draw guns on each other over a gambling debt, or for any other reason for that matter. If NASCAR is like “Leave it to Beaver,” and the NBA is like “The Sopranos,” I’ll take the happy family any day. Am I old fashioned? Why, yes I am, and pretty proud of it.
There’s enough drama in life and on CNN and MSNBC without having to hear about pistol standoffs on ESPN. Through my own super secret methods of readership demographics analysis, I’ve determined that most of you would consider me an to be an old guy anyway. I don’t mind. Everyone has that older uncle or friend of the family that nobody likes to talk about! If that’s my niche in your life, then so be it!
2010 not only is a new year, but also a new decade. NASCAR will go on, and just next month the show will get cranked up again at Daytona. It feels so good to say ‘next month’ and not ‘next year.’ I, like most loyal NASCAR fans sometimes start to get bored near the end of the season when it looks inevitable who will win the Cup. For four years in a row, Jimmie Johnson has been NASCAR’s champion, and he has deserved it. But it does get old after a while, unless you’re a huge JJ fan. Should Jimmie Johnson win the whole shebang in 2010, I’ll give him and the 48 team kudos yet again, because it will be again well deserved.
Personally, I hope we see a dark horse, a long shot, in other words suddenly shoot to the top of the charts in Sprint Cup. It’s not that I don’t wish a record breaking (again) 5th consecutive championship, because Jimmie and crew are pretty likable guys, it’s just because I think it’s time for NASCAR nation to get excited again. For whatever reasons, Jimmie just doesn’t create the excitement that 4 consecutive championships deserve. NASCAR is a fan driven sport, and if the fans aren’t excited, then the sport needs something different. It’s just that simple. NASCAR needs some new heroes, and I doubt that Jimmie Johnson could slay a dragon or catch a bullet with his teeth and fit that description for most fans. Jimmie Johnson is a genuinely nice guy who just doesn’t attract a ton of attention.
On another note, but one that is pertinent to the subject of reality, don’t look to your sports heroes or to so called reality TV for a dose of what the media calls ‘reality.’ Reality is everywhere. You don’t have to travel far to get a big heaping dose of it, actually. I haven’t written much here lately, in part because I’ve been spending a lot of time in a hospital, trying to help care for an ailing family member. Many of you who read this know how this is, and for those of you who don’t, unfortunately you probably will one day.
A local sports talk show host has a son who has been in and out of hospitals and treatment centers for much of the last couple of years. As I understand it, the boy is only in his teens, and never has really had a chance to have a life, because he’s been hit so hard by a disease neither he nor his father had ever heard of, until it hit this boy. Recently on the host’s show, he remarked that he didn’t think much of reality TV shows. His comment was along the lines of this: “If you want reality, go spend some time in a hospital.”
I was struck by that comment, and now I indeed know it’s true. I’ve spent a lot of hours this past week seeing what happens even in a small town hospital. Battles between life and death are literally being waged not only daily, but hourly. That, my friends, is reality.
By all means, please, please support your favorite NASCAR drivers and other sports heroes, whether they be football, baseball, or even, yes, the NBA. Do your part in supporting your teams. Support your favorite athletes or teams with all you heart, but remember to do one other thing, if not for me, then for yourself.
Support those who have helped you be who you are, whether it be family, friends, a mentor, a pastor, or whomever.
Help them when you can, because sooner or later, everyone will need some help.
That’s reality, my friends.