Shore-area native and racing fan Joseph Hyer offers his take on all things NASCAR every Monday.
Things have a way of coming full-circle in the NASCAR world. What's old is new again, and it has left me with a feeling of nostalgia.
Jeff Gordon returned to victory lane this week. Bobby Labonte is in third in the Sprint Cup point standings. Mark Martin has had two competitive races, and yet the season has barely started. It sort of feels like 1999 all over again.
I must admit, I found Jeff Gordon's victory to be refreshing. It's hard to believe I am saying that, but after all, it has been 66 races since we last got to hear the four-time champion say "that was awesome" in victory lane.
For many fans, it was like watching their childhood hero go to victory lane. Even Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne would agree. Growing up, Bayne admitted that he had multiple #24 posters all over his bedroom walls. As a six-year-old-fan, he even posed for a picture with Gordon on pit road at Bristol.
All of this nostalgia got me thinking about how I became a NASCAR fan. After all, it is not too typical for a boy from Beachwood to grow up watching NASCAR, but yet, I did. In fact, it's not all that common for a Jersey Shore resident to stay in on Memorial Day weekend to watch a NASCAR race, but I do. And it's definitely not typical to miss a week of the fifth grade to go to the Daytona 500, but I did.
I should clarify that NASCAR is growing in popularity in the Northeast, however, NASCAR fans are still a minority here on the Jersey Shore.
I'm not sure exactly when I became a NASCAR fan, but I remember that it was always a big part of of my life. As I grew up, it was routine for my dad to spend his Sundays watching stock car races. He made it a point to watch as many races as he could throughout the season, despite the fact that his job often required weekend hours.
I guess by the age of seven or so, I started to make the weekly decision to watch the races. I hardly understood what was happening, but with the help of my father and grandfather, I learned. With the passing of time, I've come to realize that NASCAR is just that. NASCAR is family. Most of us who are fans can thank the generation before us.
For me, Sundays meant time to bond with my dad and grandfather. Auto racing can be confusing, but they taught me everything, and I loved every minute of it. I was spending time with them every week. By the age of 9, I had developed a favorite driver (Bobby Labonte), and never missed a race.
That Christmas, my grandparents surprised me with a trip to the Daytona 500, and I was thrilled. To this day, it is the best Christmas gift I have ever received. Plus, the trip gave me the chance to spend a week on a road-trip in their RV. In fact, I was lucky enough to travel to several races with my grandparents. From Dover to Charlotte and Daytona, it was the best. I still cherish those trips, and will forever.
It's funny how this sport teaches us all so many life lessons. I cried when Dale Earnhardt died. It was one of the first times in my life that I felt like I had experienced death. I felt like I knew Earnhardt just because I watched him on the track every week on TV.
On Sundays, I screamed at the TV if Bobby Labonte was leading the race. I learned about both victory and defeat from the sport.
Heartache in NASCAR is like no other because of the level of competition. Your favorite driver can be leading on the last lap, but end up finishing 30th. Last week's Daytona 500 was the first chance I had to scream at the TV in years, and I must admit, it felt good (although my college roommates weren't too happy).
So I'm asking you this week to share your NASCAR story. How did you become a fan? Was it just "in your blood," or were you an accidental fan?