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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Irreplaceable

People always ask me why, but I can never tell them. Why can't I tell them? Because truly, I don't know the answer. But I'm quite familiar with the question: Why do you like NASCAR? followed by the question, "Who's your favorite driver?" My response has always been Jeff Gordon. I could never tell you how, I could never tell you why, all I know is, Jeff is my driver. I started taking an interest in NASCAR around two or three years old, during 1997 or 98. Obviously I was too young to understand the concept of a championship or know what the Daytona 500 was, but there was something damn cool about that rainbow colored #24 car (if there wasn't , I wouldn't have had a banner of it above my red race car bed when I was little). As I got older, I started following the sport more religiously. My first memory of this is when I was six years old. It was 2001, I was at my Grandma's house, flipping through the channels, when the "NASCAR race" happened to be on (turns out it was the Brickyard 400, but to a five year old, it was just a race). Jeff Gordon won that day, on his 30th birthday, and it was the first time that I had seen him win live on tv. I was a fan before this, but that win, for some reason that I can't pinpoint was so cool because it cemented my fandom forever. 

This was among the first of some great memories, such as watching him capture his 3rd Daytona 500 victory in 2005, I remember screaming at the TV during the closing laps, or tying Dale Earnhardt on the all time wins list at Phoenix, and then breaking his record at Talladega (NASCAR irony at its finest). He's even won on my birthday and my prom night. However the two memories that trump all are some of the most recent. since 2003, I have attended the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. in 2012, my 10th year of attendance, I finally got to see my hero win a race in person after one of the most tumultuous weeks of his career. This was nothing new though, he was always the best at proving to people that he's still got "it" after all these years. The one that trumps all though is finally meeting him. Homestead 2013. I was waiting in a certain spot in the garage area where the drivers come through on there golf carts to get to their cars. Out of nowhere comes Jeff on his golf cart, with the person who told me to wait in that spot sitting in the other seat. What occurred next are 30 coolest seconds of my life. Jeff walks over, introduces himself, signs his autograph, and snaps a picture. he then told he has a meeting to get to, I wished him luck on he was on his way. No matter how brief it was, my lifelong goal was complete. I met my Superman. I met my hero, Jeff Gordon.

Last month, Jeff announced that 2015 will be his last full time season and he will retire at seasons end. Tomorrow, he will participate in his 23rd and final Daytona 500. Starting 1st, none the less, while posting the fastest qualifying speed at the historic track in almost 30 years. If that isn't good racing karma, I don't know what is. Tomorrow will be extremely weird, for a lack of a better term. Hell, this whole season will be weird. It hasn't set in yet that this is it. I know it won't. Not until I go to Homestead for maybe the final time in November. The tears will certainly be flowing that day. In other professional sports, players come and go, but your team is always there. In Auto Racing, your driver is everything, and in the case of Jeff, irreplaceable. 92 wins, 4 championships, 3 Daytona 500's, 4 Brickyard 400's.There will never be another Jeff Gordon. Ever. Good luck tomorrow, Jeff. Here's to one last "Drive For Five."

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