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The Great American Race.
February 13, 2004

by Bill Hogan



This Sunday, the world's best stock car drivers and millions of racing fans will be revving up for the start of NASCAR's biggest, richest and most prestigious race. The 46th annual Daytona 500 on NBC.

This is must-see TV. Actor Ben Affleck is the Grand Marshal. That means he gets to make the famous call "gentlemen, start your engines." The good news is, it appears J-Lo won't be accompanying him. Let's hope not.


LeAnn Rimes is headlining the pre-race extravaganza entitled "The NEXTEL Tribute to America." A press release touting the celebration eagerly boasts that the elaborate show will have "a Super Bowl halftime-type atmosphere." Let's hope not.

This is a tribute to America. Not a tribute to the American breast. Something tells me that the executives who run NASCAR are smart enough to know better than to let MTV produce the entertainment portion of the festivities.

President Bush will be on hand. That's reason enough for LeAnn and the rest of the performers to keep their clothes on. As if one really needs a reason to act responsibly while performing in front of millions of families.

The public relations genius that came up with the "halftime-type atmosphere" analogy should have done his or her homework. The FCC is probably already staking out the Daytona International Speedway.

Lee Greenwood is scheduled to sing "God Bless the U.S.A," my guess is that there will be 160,000 spectators singing right along with him; seems like that alone would be worth the price of admission.

The Daytona 500 marks the start of the 2004 NEXTEL Cup Series – better remembered as the Winston Cup Series. Which begs the question: why would they kick off the season with the race that is often referred to as the "Super Bowl of NASCAR?" This is the sport's premier event; a showcase for the stock car racing industry.

Where do they go from here? When it comes to auto racing, I confess that I'm not very knowledgeable. As far as NASCAR is concerned, it's the Daytona 500. That's it. I can't name another stock car event. Can you? What would possess them to put all their cards on the table in February?

I understand that the first Daytona 500 took place on February 22, 1959 - a race won by Lee Petty in an exciting photo finish. But here we are in the 21st century and, with the exception of the NFL, NASCAR is the most watched sport on television.

Imagine how much more interest could be generated if there were some sort of buildup to NASCAR's main event. There's a reason nice girls don't kiss on the first date and Hitchcock waits until the end of the movie to reveal the murderer. Anticipation.

You don't put the Ali-Frazier bout at the top of a boxing card. The Rolling Stones don't come on stage before the warm-up band. And you have to sit through every excruciating episode if you want to find out who is the next American Idol.

I don't want to tell a billion dollar industry how it should run its business, but it doesn't take a CPA with an MBA from MIT to figure out that the Daytona 500 should be the finale, not the opening act.

I used the word "sport" a number of times to characterize stock car racing. Many sports "experts" would disagree. They would say that it is not a sport because the car does all the work. The same people will tell you horse racing is not a sport for similar reasons.

These sports authorities should do one thing before they form an opinion. Get on the freeway during rush hour. In bumper to bumper traffic, let's have every driver step it up to, oh about, 130 miles per hour. The first one to get home without crashing wins.

Ok, on the NASCAR circuit, they don't have to deal with the idiot yelling at his stock broker on the cell phone. Or the dunce that's fixated on the dashboard console trying to find "Stairway to Heaven" on the new '70's retro CD he bought in Wal-Mart. But you get the idea.

I get a kick out of watching the Daytona 500 because the stakes are so high - even if it is the first NASCAR race of the season. I imagine nothing compares to watching it from the grandstand – they don't call it "The Great American Race" for nothing.


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