Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ooooh it's so close!

The Daytona 500 is Sunday. It's often called the Super Bowl of NASCAR. Based on the relative number of spectators in attendance, it makes more sense to call the Super Bowl the Daytona 500 of the NFL.

Daytona is all about the magnitude of the event. An unimaginably large track with banking so steep (31 degrees) that if you place a coin the banking, on its side, it will slide down (so I am told).

The top speed of 210 mph was achieved in a qualifying run by Bill Elliott in 1987. Such speeds are too dangerous, for drivers and fans, so shortly thereafter NASCAR mandated a "restrictor plate" (only at Daytona an Talladega) which slows the cars down--qualifying speeds are now around 185 mph. The result of the restrictor plate is "pack racing" and "bump drafting." The cars race around in a giant pack rather than spreading out in a normal fashion. On the straight-aways, it's acceptable to bump the car in front—the effect is a burst of speed. (The driver in front wants the car behind to bump him. But if you do it on the turns, and someone probably will, the bumpee will spin out and crash.) One mistake, and you get the dreaded though highly anticipated "big one." That's a wreck involving many cars at once.

Here is a big one at Daytona in 2002 started by my favorite driver, Kevin Harvick. In the final tally it involved 20 cars—probably more than half of the cars that where still running at that time. When the video starts, the TV coverage picks up the wreck in progress on a return from commercial. There is a delay until they show you the replay--because they won't show it until they are sure nobody is seriously injured.

The "big one" is undeniably cool, but I've come to prefer normal "hard" racing. One of the most amazing sporting events I ever watched was the last two laps and photo finish between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington in 2003. They locked cars at the end, and Craven later said he only won because his car was an inch longer. I was watching at the airport, and almost missed my flight because I refused to board until I saw the ending.

No comments:

Post a Comment