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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Daytona 500

If a movie is ever made about Mark Martin’s life, you won’t see him winning the Daytona 500 in what may have been his final shot (in 23 attempts) at it, but instead you’ll see a guy of character who that will make you think about your own. I need to back up a little.

I took advantage of NASCAR.com’s new TrackPass feature for the Daytona 500. I clicked on Mark Martin’s car as the race started and was able to watch a computer animation of the entire race from his car’s perspective (while watching the race simultaneously on television) and I was able to listen to the communication between Mark and his crew chief and Mark and his spotter for the entire race.

Martin started the race in the 26th position. I watched as he slowly made his way through the field and I listened as his guys debated about whether they should take two tires or four tires during his last pit stop with about 40 laps remaining. They chose to go with two and when he left the pits he was in first place. He just had to figure out how to hold off most of the guys behind him who took four tires. Somehow he did until a caution flag flew toward the end of the race which put the race into a two lap overtime. All of the cars were stopped on the track as debris was cleaned up.

The conversation between Martin and his crew chief was fascinating at this point. Mark knew that he would need help (meaning, he needed to find somebody to draft with for the final two laps), otherwise the guys behind him would form an alliance and go right by him. His crew chief told him that he was trying to work a deal with some of the teams behind him and he thought that maybe Jeff Burton might help if he could get close enough. Martin knew he was in trouble and his voice cracked with nervous emotion as he said something like, “They’re going to have to pry it from my hands to take it from me.”

I was so nervous as the cars started up again to complete the final two laps that I could hardly stand it. Martin is my favorite driver and he’s won 35 races in his career, but I haven’t been a NASCAR fan long enough to see any of them. And his career is winding down, so his chances of doing so aren’t high—especially at the biggest race of the season. I stood for the final two laps. I shouted “Come on Mark!” about twenty times and just as they headed into turn four of the final lap I was jumping up and down, “You got it Mark! You got it!”

Then, out of nowhere, Kevin Harvick came screaming toward the front in the outside lane. “Oh NOOOOO! Go Mark Go!” Martin was barely leading with about 200 yards left to go in the race, when a massive pile up occurred behind the two lead cars. For some reason, NASCAR didn’t wave a yellow flag (which on the last lap would have ended the race immediately and frozen the field where they were—giving Martin the victory) and Harvick got by Martin at the end—winning by .02 seconds.

Meanwhile, with the green flag still out, guys continued racing for the finish line attempting to finish as well as possible. One guy after another smashed into each other. Clint Bowyer flipped upside down and crossed the finish line on the roof of his car—on fire. I can’t believe somebody wasn’t killed, and I can’t believe NASCAR didn’t drop the yellow flag. I screamed at the television. “How could you not wave the yellow flag? HOW?”

Martin held out hope as officials tried to sort out the mess. Finally the ruling came down—Harvick was the winner. Martin could have screamed at officials. He could have thrown up his hands in disgust. He could have pounded the roof of his car. He could have done a lot of things. Instead, here’s what he said, with a smile on his face: “I didn't ask for that trophy,” Martin said. “I asked for a chance at it. And those guys [his crew] gave me exactly what I asked for and I let it slip away.”

Strange things happen in the heat of battle. Normal people become crazy. Crazy people become even crazier—especially if a seeming injustice has occurred. Mark Martin chooses those moments to allow his character to shine and in the process he makes me think about my own.


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