Tuesday, February 17, 2009

5 Life Lessons From Daytona

1. Life, like racing, is mostly about the decisions you make. You run with the wrong crowd at Daytona and you get sucked to the back faster than you can say "Dick Trickle". You work with your team and, if you're prepared and play it smart, you can all get to the front for a possible win. You find yourself a lap down? You never give up until you get back in a position to win. The importance of teamwork and smart decision-making - a metaphor for life.

2. Sometimes, you need to see the world through the eyes of a child. Whether you're a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend, no adult should go to Daytona (or any race, for that matter) without a child in tow. Watching a youngster's excitement over the zoom of the cars, the roar of the engines and bump drafting down the frontstretch can really put things in perspective. Sometimes we lose our zest for life. We become cynical and bored. If that's the case with you, take a kid to a race. Their enthusiasm will be contagious.

3. In tough economic times - some things are still worth a splurge. I'm speaking of the Fanzone at the Daytona International Speedway. This was my first experience "in the zone" and I'll never forget it. Hanging out on the fandeck over the garages is about more than seeing your favorite drivers and crew up close -- it's about making new friends and feeling a part of the NASCAR community at large. Mark Martin signs autographs from his garage- the crowd goes wild. There's Richard Petty - cameras start snapping. Ryan Newman's wrecked car rolls into the garage area - gasps of dismay erupt from the fans. Kyle Busch drives by - let the trash talking begin. For my money, I'd rather splurge on an experience in the Fanzone, than a driver T-shirt or ballcap. T-shirts fray, but memories live forever.

4. An unexpected kindness can make someone’s day, year or life. While hanging out in the infield before Saturday's Nationwide race, I met a US Army soldier and his six-year-old little boy who was wearing a Jeff Gordon Halloween costume and hat. An Army airborne ranger (who was standing near the stage before driver introductions) came over and talked to them and gave them what looked like Dale Jr. merchandise. Then a NASCAR official brought the boy a lugnut from one of the racecars. As if that weren't cool enough, minutes later, the CEO of Camping World (the folks who sponsored the Nationwide race) asked the soldier if he and his son would like to ride in the pace car and lead the field to the green flag. The folks standing around them burst into cheers and applause. And then, like NASCAR royalty, the soldier and his child were ushered under the yellow rope and into the driver area to take their places. I'd say the kindess of the person who made that little guy's dream come true will be remembered as long as he lives.

5. Keep the memory of your heroes alive. When NASCAR fans pick a driver, they are fiercely loyal. Perhaps no fans are moreso than those of Dale Earnhardt. From the hushed picture-taking by Earnhardt's statue in front of the Daytona 500 Experience to the wistful conversations of middle-aged men standing outside the Earnhardt merchandise trailer, Daytona is sacred ground. But it isn't only the fallen NASCAR heroes that are remembered with reverence. Fans don't forget second-chance heroes like Mark Martin (who got almost as much fan applause during Sprint Cup practice as Dale Jr) and veteran Bill Elliott, who had one of the fastest cars early on in Speedweeks. The moral of the story: don't forget where you came from - and who got you there in the first place.

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