Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NASCAR Hall of Fame - Its Timing Is Perfect

Maybe it's a byproduct of aging.  It likely is.  But I'm discovering that the older I become, the more I'm interested in the past of things.  In fact, being surrounded by the nostalgic, even the historic, gives me a certain level of comfort.  I'm a little obsessed with family history and genealogy.  I have 1970s outlaw country on my iPod. I've recently discovered "heirloom" gardening.

And from what I've read, I'm not alone.  Trendwatchers are reporting that the current instability in American culture and economics has led many folks my age - and even younger - to return to the comforts of the past.  That's why traditional patterns and textiles are seeing a resurgence in the marketplace.  Quilting is cool.  So is heritage cooking and roots music.

Car makers have likewise divined this widespread yearning for bygone days - Ford's Mustang actually looks like a Mustang for the first time in years.  And the Chevrolet Camaro has an updated look that's pointedly familiar.

And all of this confirms my belief that today's opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame couldn't have come at a more perfect time.

Fans need this.  NASCAR needs this.

So many of NASCAR's living legends are rapidly aging before our eyes.  The Richard Pettys.  The Junior Johnsons. The David Pearsons.  Even Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Hammond don't look as youthful as they did just a few short years ago.

It's so important that NASCAR honor the people who made the sport great while some of them are still here to honor. And giving fans a place to see the sport's history in person, will do more to educate young fans about its simple beginnings than any book, movie or magazine article ever could.

I remember how I felt when I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville a few years ago.  There in a glass case was Buck Owens' red, white and blue guitar.  The one he strummed every weekend on Hee Haw.  A relic of my childhood Saturday nights.

Here was Elvis' "Solid Gold" Cadillac.  And a very hazy memory surfaced of the day Elvis died. I'm sitting in the back of my parents' 1977 Pontiac Catalina. A newscaster drones on the radio.

I expect the day I vist the NASCAR Hall of Fame will conjure similar imagery.

While children my nephew's age will thrill to the sight of Jimmie Johnson's four championship trophies, I'll be searching out those artifacts from further back.  The checkered flag from the 1998 Daytona 500. The infamous Hudson Hornet.  Junior Johnson's re-assembled whiskey still.

And then I'll remember my Uncle J's ribald tales about the Daytona infield circa 1979.  My Uncle E's stories of running stock cars in South Florida in the 1960s.  My own remembrances of the 2000 All-Star race in Charlotte - the first NASCAR event I ever attended.

And I won't be alone.  No matter what their age, ethnicity or driver affiliation, the fans who visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame share a common history.  It's an all-American tale whose every chapter isn't perfect.  Whose heroes hail from farms, back roads and garages.  Whose fans have memories who are all different, but somehow the same.

After all, it's our story.  It's our sport.  It's our NASCAR.

So welcome to the world, NASCAR Hall of Fame.  We're mighty glad to see you.

Photo info: Tour of Glory Road at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

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