When Jimmie Johnson kissed the bricks at The Brickyard on Sunday, he continued one of NASCAR’s most beloved traditions. Such traditions are important. They connect fans with the sport and provide much-needed landmarks within a grueling schedule. It seems like almost every race, every track and every legendary driver offers a bit of history for people to enjoy. These ten traditions stand out.
10. Hall of Fame Induction. Our first tradition has yet to take place. It is scheduled for 2010 and it is going to be big. This ceremony will be highly-anticipated next year and every year after. Its arrival reminds me of the inaugural Brickyard 400 announcement. In most cases we turn around to see history, but in this case we see history coming.
9. Homestead-Miami Stage Celebrations. The Sprint Cup’s champions are crowned at a banquet. That is where the trophies, checks and handshakes are handed out. The last race of the season is where the hands are slapped, war cries are yelled and champagne is sprayed. This is the winning moment and fans get to witness the celebration in person.
8. All-Star Race Pit Crew Introductions. Drivers are introduced every week on the Cup tour. They walk across a stage, wave to the grandstands and ride around the speedway in a parade vehicle. This is the one race a year at which the over-the-wall-guys get some loving. The All-Star Race always does things a bit differently and this is a tradition that pit crews and fans love.
Pit crew guys need love, too.
7. Polish Victory Laps. Alan Kulwicki did his first celebratory clockwise lap following his first Cup win in Phoenix. The owner-driver coined the term in 1988 in reference to his Polish heritage. Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash in 1993 on his way to Bristol, Tenn., for the spring Cup event there. Since then, Polish Victory Laps have been used as a show of respect for someone who has lost his life. Kulwicki was honored many times in this manner.
6. Kissing the Bricks at Indianapolis. Crew chief Todd Parrott grabbed Dale Jarrett after they won the 1996 Brickyard 400 and told his driver they were going to kiss the bricks. The yard of bricks that stretches across the frontstretch at the start/finish line commemorates the original surface of the speedway. Credit Parrott for being the first to gather his clan, turn their hats around and smooch the Goodyear-covered baked clay.
5. Military Presence. NASCAR honors the military at each Cup event, where it’s not uncommon to see many of the young people who protect this nation’s freedoms sitting in the stands. Before each race, the garage and pit areas are filled with servicemen who are receiving behind-the-scenes tours.
Memorial Day 2009
4. Martinsville Speedway Grandfather Clocks. As far as trophies go, this one ranks high on every team’s wish list. Added bonus: It is a functional piece, not just a shiny representation of a win. Drivers have the clocks on display in their homes and race shops proudly place them in their lobbies. The Virginia oval’s reward for victory is a treasured trophy.
3. Darlington. The words tradition and Darlington are commonly used in the same sentence. The first superspeedway has an aura that is rich with the sport’s history. Baseball’s Wrigley Field and college football’s Rose Bowl fall into the same category as the South Carolina track. The Southern 500 was born here and helped propel stock car racing forward.
2. Speedweeks in February. No other sport opens the season with its most important competition. The Daytona 500 is the culmination of 11 days of events. The Rolex Sports Car Series holds its mammoth 24-hour event two weeks prior. Local short tracks run races, providing race fans with events nearly every day and night. ARCA and NASCAR’s national series also get the spotlight at Daytona. This is where it all started. NASCAR and the beach.
1. Richard Petty’s Hat and Sunglasses. The most recognized trademarks in the sport belong to this man. Petty’s cowboy hat and sunglasses paired up with his bright smile still draw crowds 17 years after he retired. Petty’s signature look also mastered the art of souvenir marketing. The King’s masterstroke – without the hat and glasses he can blend into a crowd. Mike Joy of FOX recalls a time when he and Petty did some television work together and stopped at a mall in Atlanta. Joy asked him if he would be all right with the crowd when he got inside. Petty said not to worry, took off his hat and glasses in the car and walked around inside the mall virtually unrecognized. That look is tradition.