The Daytona 500 is a huge deal in the world of automobile racing. Yet it's always been curious why NASCAR opens the season with their own Super Bowl instead of saving it for the end. Go figure.
The race itself has certainly evolved over the years. It started out being run on the beaches of Daytona. Over time it has progressed into being held at the mega race track we know today.
In the early days, there pretty much weren't any rules. Whoever could build the fastest car that would last for 500 miles -- assuming a decent driver to pilot it -- would likely win. Actually, that's not quite true. The ruling authorities stipulated that because it was a "stock" car race, every component on the cars had to be available to the general public as well. Theoretically, if Joe hot rod freak had enough bucks he could piece together a similar machine, with a little help from his local high-performance auto parts shop.
When Richard Petty ruled the roost, big blocks and monster horsepower were the key to his success. He had far superior equipment than most of his competitors. The King just out-muscled them.
It was also true that the Daytona 500 was indeed the Great American Race, at least regarding cars that resembled -- well -- regular cars. The Indy 500 was a much bigger deal but those were custom made racing machines from top to bottom. Also a lot faster and far more dangerous to a driver's health if a wreck should happen. And lots of them did.
But it should be noted that, back in the day, the Daytona 500 was about as American as it could get. Several US car companies poured resources and engineering into their race programs. There was Pontiac, Chevy, Ford, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Chrysler/Dodge. The virtual gamut of American automobile manufacturing.
Since then a lot has changed. Oldsmobile no longer even exists. Buick is trying to change its image from grandpa cars into trendy vehicles and long ago folded up their racing division. Not too long ago Pontiac dropped out of NASCAR. And recently Dodge called it quits too.
In the meantime Toyota had jumped into the fray. Enter Joe Gibbs. You remember Joe. A good Christian man that stood for God, apple pie and, by thunder, the United States of America. Once upon a time he was the head coach of the Washington Redskins, even leading them to a Super Bowl victory. It just didn't get any more American than that.
But somewhere along the line old Joe sold out the red, white, and blue. He started a NASCAR team, but jumped ship from any American auto manufacturers and signed on with Toyota. You know -- those lovable folks from Japan that have flooded the USA with their products --tariff free -- and were in a large part responsible for GM and Chrysler sliding into temporary bankruptcy. Yeah, those guys, whose government still slaps steep tariffs on any American imports. The very same folks that, after America had suffered enormous casualties along the way, had finally defeated them in WWII -- over 70 years ago. And yet the USA has incredibly continued to provide Japan with basically a free army to defend them ever since. They are our friends, quoth the politicians, even though they've done their best to rape, loot, and pillage the American economy ever since.
And now we have finally come full circle. In this year's Daytona 500, a Toyota not only won the race for the first time, but the top three finishers were also Toyotas. Nary a Chevy or Ford in sight.
No doubt, Joe Gibbs and his drivers are ecstatic. It's all about winning -- right?
Well, here's my take. Joe Gibbs may have once been a pillar of American values, but he whored himself when he sold out to a Japanese company. Given his resources and knowledge, Gibbs likely could have had the same success with an American manufacturer.
While he and his Toyota drivers celebrate their success, I, as a true American, find it not only disgraceful, but decidedly unpatriotic, even border-line treasonous, that they have managed to bastardize the once Great American Race.
Somewhere in a town -- appropriately named Toyota -- in Japan, car executives rejoice.
But to paraphrase Ernest Thayer's "Casey At The Bat", there will be no joy in red, white, and blue land.
The Great American Race has finally struck out.