Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

Aged to perfection
By Doug Belliveau
June 21, 200

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Dale Earnhardt Sr..

Recently it seems that everybody is talking about the new crop of young NASCAR drivers. Guys like Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart have worked their way into the racing limelight during the past two seasons. There have been five wins so far this year between these first and second-year drivers. Conversely, some of the veterans like Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace and Bill Elliot appear to be in the twilight of their great careers. And with the influx of all this young talent in NASCAR, one would assume that it is time to pass the torch from the old-timers to the young guns.

Not so fast - this isn't CART we're talking about here! They don't call them the Good Ol' Boys for nothing. I offer you the following reality check in regards to who the front-runners are in Winston Cup competition. Let's take a glance at the top ten drivers in the point standings. Are there any rookies in this group? I think not. The guy with the least amount of NASCAR experience is Tony Stewart, who is currently seventh in the standings. He's in his second Winston Cup season, but he's hardly a freckle-faced kid driving a go-kart. At 29 years of age, Tony has extensive experience in other racing series, including open-wheel racing. And Stewart is not the youngest member of the top-ten points club. Believe it or not, that distinction goes to 28-year old Jeff Gordon, who is tenth in points this year. He may still be relatively young, but he's about as much a novice to racing as Tiger Woods is to golf.

Jeremy Mayfield.

So just how old are these guys in the top ten? Well, you have Jeff and Ward Burton, who are 32 and 38 years old respectively. And then there is Bobby Labonte, who is leading the WC standings at the age of 35. And these are the youngest drivers of the group! The other five drivers in the top ten are all over 40 years of age. The Geritol Guys are led by the crafty seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, who at age 48 has re-ignited his career and is challenging for a record 8th championship. Who said you're supposed to slow down when you get up there in years? Is it time for AARP and collecting Social Security? I don't think so. Overall, drivers in the top ten average 38 years of age. In CART and F-1, the driving gloves and helmet would have been hung up long ago.

In NASCAR, experience is a huge factor in determining success. That's because stock car racing is part preparation, part endurance, and part mental toughness. Toughness is what comes from piloting full-size automobiles bumper to bumper at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour. This type of racing requires the "been-there, done-that" mentality. When I graduated college years ago, I had difficulty finding suitable employment. I heard the same question at every interview I attended. "Where have you previously worked?". Although my school's credentials were excellent, employers wanted someone with experience. We see this in action when an NFL team signs a veteran quarterback to lead their team in the playoffs.

Tony Stewart

So it was quite ironic this past week when 31-year old Jeremy Mayfield used a maneuver he probably learned from veteran Dale Earnhardt. He allegedly bumped the Intimidator, passed him and took the checkered flag at Pocono. When Mayfield goes to his next job interview and they ask about his experience, he can claim, "I've graduated from the school of car knocks".

Rusty Wallace

Maybe there is no denying that the torch has started a slow transition to a new group of drivers-in-training. But don't count the Winston Cup elders out just yet. They've proven themselves as fierce competitors and winners over the past couple of decades. Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States of America at age 77. And come November, we may just be crowning a 48-year old 8-time Winston Cup champion.






Will the #3 again carry Earnhardt to the Winston Cup?

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