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Sometimes Tracks Talk To Drivers

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 15 2010
For some drivers, race tracks are more than just prime pieces of real estate. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

For some drivers, race tracks are living, breathing creatures. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Daytona Beach, Fla. – If you think a race track is just another piece of real estate that can be molded into whatever the current market demands, you don’t understand them like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart do.

For Stewart, there are few places on earth as hallowed and sacred as Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In an interview a few years back, as he sat in the infield and surveyed the surroundings, Stewart opened up about his feelings for the venerable race course.

“The last time I did double duty (driving in both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on the same day) I was staying in my motor home in the infield,” Stewart said. “I got back from an event at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’m the only one walking around there.

“You’re standing there and you swear you can hear people and hear race cars going around there. To me, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just like a living, breathing organism.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that he hasn’t experienced a feeling like the presence and spirit of old cars and drivers at Daytona, but he does seem to be drawn by the heritage of the track.

He said that as he rolls through the narrow, corrugated steel tunnel to start another season, he mentally closes his eyes to the “fan- and driver-friendly improvements” that have been made in recent years.

He misses the old, low-slung cinderblock garages, with their well-worn wooden work benches. And he longs to once again sit on the tattered couch in the Goodyear building and soak up the war stories being told there.

“When I pull into Daytona… it’s so modernized and different today than it was when I first came here,” he said. “But I try to remember… I try not to really get caught up in the hype that it is currently. I think about the old races that I saw here, whether I saw them on television or whether I watched them on a VHS tape or I watched them live.

“I try to think about when I saw a car come off a corner or a certain car go around 1 and 2 or guys come through the tri-oval, or whatever. I think about what that looked like and what all has happened here and try to remember the names and the faces of all the people that have came through here and had success and made the sport what it is, made the track what it is.”

The one part that Earnhardt does like about the present Daytona is that it offers him a chance to connect his name once again with those from the past.

“It’s the people who have come through here that really have put it on the map,” he said. “That gets me pumped up. Thinking about those things gets me excited, because I want to add another chapter to all that.

“I try to stay away from the energy that is current, the energy that’s present at the time and all the glitz and glamour that’s produced for that weekend and try and think about the history and add to the history and try to be a part of that.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 15 2010
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