The Truck race at Eldora was more than just a mid-summer spectacle for fans to enjoy, it was a glimpse into what NASCAR was and what they still could be.
NASCAR racing. The definition of NASCAR has changed tremendously over the 65 years that the sport has existed. It's a sport I love and one that has made remarkable gains since its inception in 1947, but there's just something missing.
The evolution of NASCAR
When it started, it was a backwoods racing league with a bunch of rough around the edges gear-heads, bootleggers, and war vets. It then morphed into gladiators that took on a superhero-like persona in the eyes of those who watched as they tore around the high banks of Daytona at unfathomable speeds, wearing nothing more than street clothes and an open-faced helmet with goggles. They were racers who needed to win, not only because of the obvious desire to beat their opponents, but to put food on the table.
It then evolved into a lucrative business based around blue-collar Southerners who the fans could relate to. They raced hard, said what was on their minds, and had no fear even as death lurked around every corner. Then the sport got safer, the purses got larger, and these gladiators became celebrities.
It seemed like the sport had finally found its own identity and would continue to flourish as it aimed for the NFL's title as the most popular sport in the United States. Then Earnhardt died and everything changed. It's now a billion-dollar sport with clean cut and articulate spokespersons who also race stock cars for a living.
The will to win
They all still want to win, but don't really need to either. Pushing and shoving for the victory has become a bit of a rarity when the checkered flag looms, because as stated before, it's no longer dire that a driver wins the race and the immediate scrutiny they'd come under for employing such rough tactics almost makes it not worth it.
It's become a much more professional, or eloquent sport, if you will.
And now, it's once again a sport struggling to find its identity with changes to the format and cars constant and consistency not part of the sport's vocabulary.
Eldora's unspoken message
You wouldn't know it if the MudSummer Classic at Eldora was the first NASCAR race you've ever watched though. With the mud flying and every fan in the packed grandstands screaming, 30 racers battled tooth and nail for 150 grueling laps. They didn't care about the money, politics, or even their trucks....they just wanted to win.
That race and more specifically, Kyle Larson, epitomized everything that NASCAR was and wants to be. He refused to give up, he refused to lay down and settle for being the first loser. With pieces of his truck missing, the right side completely flattened, the front bumper falling off, tire marks on both doors, the tow knocked out, and the suspension one more hit away from completely failing, he never lifted. He slammed the wall dozens of times and still kept his foot in it.
Why did he do this? No, there wasn't a Chase berth, a massive purse, or a championship on the line. He wasn't in danger of losing his ride or trying to prove himself to potential sponsors and owners. It was nothing like that.
He just wanted to win and that my friends, is what NASCAR is supposed to be all about. The unmitigated and primeval hunger to win.