- Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine, NASCAR
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Ah, Thanksgiving a time for eating, loving, fighting, and in some cases, running from one's family. But above all, we must take a moment to tear ourselves away from all of the fun listed above (not to mention another Detroit Lions game) and pause to give thanks for all of the many blessings in our lives.
For race fans like you and me, that means appreciating all of the racing and racing-related stuff that He (whoever your He or She may be) has granted us. Just in case you don't get my drift here, or are simply too stuffed to do it yourself, here's my list of things that I am giving thanks to the racing gods during this Thanksgiving season.
I am thankful for:
• The Carl Edwards go-for-broke banzai move he pulled on the last lap at Kansas on Sept. 28. When he dove past Jimmie Johnson, whom he was chasing for the race win and the points lead, he flew across the track and into the wall. For once, points meant nothing. He was going to win or wreck trying. "I let out of the gas so I didn't hit him," Johnson said. "Then I saw his nose lurch as he jumped back into the gas and I was like, 'Uh oh,' I better get going!"
• The ability to drive my car on Daytona Beach. They won't let you go faster than 25 mph, but every true NASCAR fan has to drive north up the beach with their windows down and imagine they are Curtis Turner or Tim Flock 60 years ago, streaking up the sand at 100 mph on the old Daytona Beach and Road Course.
• Clint Bowyer as a NASCAR champion. I'm not usually one to condone Cup guys coming down and stealing titles from the Nationwide regulars, but there's something very cool about a guy who was working in the body shop of a Midwestern Ford dealership five years ago standing on the championship stage in Orlando, Fla. "I don't want to finish second to anyone," said Nationwide runner-up Edwards, "but it's hard not to pull for a dirt-track racer from Kansas."
• Richard Childress' success as a team owner. With all the new faces and new money flooding into the sport over the past few years, isn't it nice to see a self-made man like RC continue to compete week in and week out from his tiny hometown of Welcome, N.C.?
• The roasted corn at Michigan, the bright red Jesse Jones hot dogs at Martinsville, and the hamburger steak at the Speedway Grill in Darlington, S.C.
• Tony Stewart's decision to get a haircut. That 'do he brought to Daytona in February looked like Tom Hanks in "The Da Vinci Code."
• Stewart's honest efforts to hire as many people as possible from the ever-growing NASCAR unemployment line for his newly formed Stewart-Haas Motorsports.
• The brilliance of Chad Knaus. Jimmie Johnson will get the accolades and cash in New York next week, but even JJ will tell you that he would have had nothing to celebrate if it weren't for this generation's version of Dale Inman and Ray Evernham. As I type this at 2 a.m., I'd be willing to bet my house that Knaus is sitting behind his desk at Hendrick Motorsports poring over plans for the 2009 Daytona 500.
• Any truly great rendition of "Gentlemen, start your engines!" More often than not that honor is given to the CEO or top sales rep from whatever company has paid to be a race's title sponsor. But celebrity GSYEs have all been downhill since Matthew McConaughey's "All right, all right, all right" version prior to the 2005 Daytona 500. If I had that as my ring tone I would just sit around all day calling myself.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. You can love him or hate him, you can think he's overrated or simply overdue, but the simple fact is that Earnhardt is still the biggest name in the sport. And take it from a man who gathers quotes and sound bites for a living: Without his unfiltered take on things, our beloved sport would be drier than a three-month-old piece of Melba toast.
• The King. Long live The King.
• Restrictor-plate racing. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's not real racing, blah blah blah. All I know is that there only four races a year when my brain refuses to let the rest of my body take a nap around Lap 100 -- the two races each at Daytona and Talladega.
• The cloud and the smell of campfire smoke that wafts over Talladega during sunrise. Go on and pour a little Bud on those bacon and eggs while you cook them, brother, it smells like racing to me.
• Aluminum baseball bats and sledgehammers. No matter how tricked-out and engineered-up our sport becomes, no team goes to the track without a couple of Louisville Sluggers and Thor mallets packed alongside the PCs. You can run all the simulations and gather all the digital data you want, but once you slap that S.O.B. against the wall the only technology that is going to get you back out on the track is a series of Albert Pujols uppercuts to the wheel wells.
• Kyle Busch. Yeah, I know he can be a little hard to take, but how can you not appreciate 21 wins in one season? And when Rowdy gave $100,000 of his winnings at Texas to ailing Nationwide Series legend Sam Ard it was nothing less than one of the classiest Victory Lane moments we've ever seen.
• Morgan Shepherd, Kenny Schrader and James Hylton. As long as these geezers are still out there racing, then it's not too late for the rest of us. "I didn't come over with the pilgrims," the 74-year-old Hylton told me earlier this year at Rockingham. "I just look like I did."
• The rumble of a 358 Chevy small block carburetor-fed 800 horsepower engine. Let's enjoy it while we can, folks. Unlike the turkey carcass that we'll be picking from this Thursday until the end of time, they won't last forever.
Ryan McGee, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, is the author of "ESPN Ultimate NASCAR: 100 Defining Moments in Stock Car Racing History." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan McGee has plenty to be thankful for this holiday season: Tony Stewart's haircut, Carl Edwards' banzai move, the neon red hot dogs at Martinsville, The King, the brilliance of Chad Knaus, Dale Jr. for being Dale Jr., and the rumble of a 358 Chevy.