Over 100,000 boos and catcalls echoed down from the grandstands. An image of his car had just appeared on the large video board perched on top of the high, infield scoring tower. The driver was no where to be seen. Yet.
A curtain opened. A young man wearing his firesuit filled with sponsor logos walked down a ramp, picked up the waiting microphone, and announced his name and race starting position through the public address system. The intensity of the fans’ dislike ratcheted up, as the boos became deafening. The driver wore a confident grin, stood tall and waved with both hands to the massive gathering of critical fans that encircled the oval.
He stepped off the ramp into the back of a pickup truck and prepared for a ceremonial pre race lap around the speedway. His teeth and smile were still shining, even as the boos began to die down when his introduction was finished.
Such is the life of Kyle Busch.
The next racecar image shown on the same video screen had a polar opposite effect on the crowd. Thousands of cheers erupted from the previously negative masses. The sport’s favorite person was up next.
Another driver sporting a firesuit with his own sponsor colors emerged from behind the same curtain. He walked down the same ramp in front of the same fans. Their response could not have been any more different.
This driver’s body language was very different as well. His face did not look skyward towards the sprawling grandstands. Covered by a hat and sunglasses, his focus seemed more on where
his feet were than whom was showering him adulation. He did not take a lot of time waving and embracing the positive energy from the crowd. He appeared shy and possibly a little uncomfortable with the loving attention.
Welcome to an up-close view of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Earnhardt stepped off the end of the ramp into the truck body that he was to ride around the speedway. He shared the truck with Busch.
Busch smiled and made a statement to Earnhardt that made them both laugh together. Quite possibly about what just occurred.
Bristol Motor Speedway has a unique method for driver introductions and provided me the backdrop for this up-close observation.
Drivers pick their own theme music, emerge from a small portable stage, and introduce themselves to the fans in attendance. How coincidental is it that the grid’s two men to draw the most reaction, positive and negative, qualified back-to-back? The contrast was quite evident.
William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”
This NASCAR story has Busch as the bad guy. A part he seems to have fun and enjoy playing. A villain who has a burning desire for victory and relishes the spotlight.
Earnhardt is cast as the hero. The attention is not something that seems to fit his personality. He appears to be more comfortable in a cockpit with his helmet buckled tight. A hero who is humble and who would prefer to stay off center stage.
Both men are needed to tell the tale we enjoy seeing unfold each Cup race weekend. A black hat and a white hat doing battle while we anticipate the outcome.
Some things that were the foundation of the sport and made it great are still here today. But we sometimes need to look a little harder through all the modern fluff to recognize the good stories.