As the pageantry, drama, and excitement of the Daytona 500 draws near, millions of fans across the nation anticipate the 52nd running of the Great American Race. I do as well, but there's a lot of sadness as well. It just won't be the same.
Growing up it was hard not to catch the racing bug. My mother was an avid Dale Earnhardt fan. She always dreamed of meeting Dale in person, but the closest she ever got was a question on a call-in radio show. Entire sections of the house were dedicated to Big E (and later Kevin Harvick), and I guess I finally caved and became a fan as well. The highlight of my week was always watching the races with my mother on TV. We'd argue over who caused what wreck, cheer together, complain together. I suppose I'm one of the few teenagers who actually liked spending time with his mother.
Last Mother's Day I spent everything I had to buy my mom tickets to the race at Richmond. It was sweltering hot, and we spent most of out time hiding underneath the bleachers for shade and making trips to the concession stand for water. I told her that next time we'd have to bring out own.
A year later mom got sick. The doctors said it was late stage stomach cancer. She didn't have much longer to live. As much as we cried together, we also spent a lot of time reminiscing about the good times, and how glad I was that we got to spend some time at the races, and how sad and angry I was that we wouldn't get to go together again. We decided that day that we would forget about the cancer for the day and just watch the race together, just like old times. It was the most fun I'd had in months.
Mom died a week later.
So it won't be the same this year. The competition will still be fierce. The action will still be spectacular. The fetes of speed will still be breathtaking. But a remarkable woman won't be there to enjoy it all with me, and it still just doesn't seem right.
But at least she finally got to meet Dale Earnhardt.
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