1102 Cathy Elliott 1


Like different types of music, conversations can have their own distinctive rhythm.

I learned this from experience. In any given verbal exchange, the moment the other person knows you have an affiliation with NASCAR – no matter how small — the same two things invariably happen.

First comes the inevitable driver question. There’s a small amount of wiggle room on this one, but ninety-nine percent of the time this blank is filled in with, “Do you know Dale Jr.?”

The next level in this two-step process has a bit more verbal Spandex, stretching to fit the speaker’s dimensions. Usually it’s a suggestion. You know it’s coming, because it’s always prefaced by the query, “You know what NASCAR needs to do?”

I don’t know that, actually, but folks don’t mind one bit offering their opinions to help me figure it out. They have informed me that NASCAR should remove all road courses from the schedule; do away with the current scoring system in favor of “the guy with the most points at the end of the season is the champion, just like the old days” system; throw all the restrictor plates into a box and sell them off for scrap metal; and ban Kyle Busch from racing. In any series. Ever.

There is something to be said for consistency. If you’re forced to address something on a regular basis, it can turn anyone, regardless of age or gender, into a Boy Scout: always prepared.

The problem with thinking that you’re “always” anything, though, is that you never really are. So a couple of days ago, when someone asked me, “You know what NASCAR needs to do?” I mentally readied my defense of road course racing and said, “Nope. Tell me.”

“You need to get a new word,” he said. “The only word you NASCAR people ever use is ‘awesome.’ Every Victory Lane, the driver talks about the awesome race, the awesome job the crew did, the awesome sponsors, the awesome fans. It’s too much. I can’t stand it anymore. Awesome, awesome, awesome. You have a thesaurus, don’t you?”

This gave me pause. Let’s face it; we’ve all known people who use the same word or catchphrase repeatedly, and it can drive you a little bonkers after you’ve heard it for about the 3,000th time.

But then I started thinking about NASCAR. I thought about inspiration and innovation, and about how one man’s vision brought the excitement of fast cars from back roads to the forefront of American sports. That’s pretty awesome.

When one of NASCAR’s most popular and successful drivers, Cale Yarborough, won three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, he made history. Folks said it could never happen again. Racing is too competitive now, they said. The cars are too equal. No one can dominate like that these days.

Sentiments like those made the memorable moment in 2010 when Jimmie Johnson claimed his fifth consecutive title – a feat we may never see repeated given the sport’s relentless pursuit of parity — particularly awesome.

I also thought about the old Winston Million bonus program from the 1980s. Hercules himself might not have been up to the task of winning three out of four of the most prestigious events in NASCAR in a single season, but Bill Elliott was so well-suited for that challenge, and so well-loved by fans, that winning the 1985 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway actually gave him a second nickname. “Million-Dollar Bill” was added to his familiar “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” moniker.

By the time 1998 rolled around, some had given up hope that Dale Earnhardt would ever win the one race that had eluded him for so long – the Daytona 500. “The Intimidator,” however, never gave up. When he won that race, in NASCAR’s 50th season, one of the greatest drivers in history was practically jumping up and down like a kid in Victory Lane. Every member of every crew came to the edge of pit road to congratulate him. It was an awesome sight.

Is there really a better adjective out there that NASCAR needs to adopt? I followed my friend’s advice and got out the thesaurus. (Well, honestly I just Googled it. Those old thesauruses are heavy.)

The list of choices was pretty lengthy. What could replace “awesome?” “Good” or “great” certainly wouldn’t cut it, so I tossed those out immediately and moved on down the list. Can you imagine hearing the following victory lane comments?

Kyle Larson: “I just really want to thank the fans. They’re grand.”

Jimmie Johnson: “The Lowe’s Chevy was breathtaking today.”

Kyle Busch: “I can’t say enough about the M&Ms crew. They’re majestic.”

No? Me, neither. I guess when you find the perfect, most appropriate word to describe something, nothing else will do. NASCAR appears to have accomplished this.

How awesome is that?

Cathy Elliott is the former public relations director at Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR, Desktop 500 and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough to Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.