Judge Ryan Keefer thinks that the number 3 is a good number. Just go with him on this.
Over 500 have tried to win the Daytona 500. Just over 20 have succeeded.
The ability of the folks at the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR for short, to market their sport the way that they do is an admirable effort, regardless of what you think of it. Among the stereotypes I've heard about it are that the few people that go to races show up just for the crashes (attendance for each race numbers the tens of thousands), that it's a sport of rednecks and chaw-lovers (racers come from California and become more international with Juan Montoya and Dario Franchitti among the current brethren), and the one that many fans bristle at, that there appears to be little or no skill involved in it. As the drivers I mentioned will tell you, driving at speeds flirting with almost two hundred miles per hour, heading into a turn that can bank as steeply as 35 degrees, the G-forces a driver experiences from time to time is similar to trying to sumo wrestle someone ten times your size.
Still though, with all of the stigma that the folks at NASCAR have experienced through the years, the sport has vaulted into a top four and even top three sport for many Americans. While the Indy Car circuit might possess an alternate type of auto racing for those who prefer a so-called "open wheel" type of racing, and Formula 1 racing has much admiration and respect throughout Europe, and has for decades, there appears to be a small influx of those drivers to NASCAR. For all of its assumptions by others, NASCAR appears to be on its way to the throne as the predominant platform for a driver, whether you race in Le Mans or La Jolla.
It helps that the Daytona 500 has increased in size and prominence through all of this, and is on the short list of things that any sports fan should experience in person, with the others being football's Super Bowl and golf's Masters. It is at the start of every NASCAR season, and is two weeks of mini-races, practices and qualifying races, leading up to 500 miles around a two and a half mile tri-oval track. It's a celebration of racing, and through the years racing's greats have taken part in the Great American Race, so it's only natural that a disc would be released in honor of the race's Golden anniversary.
This set is not only one, but two discs full of racing and memories of drivers past and present on the race itself. Starting off with the first disc, you have the race itself, albeit slightly cut down, presumably for time purposes. But watching a broadcast of a race can only hold so much attention without being mundane, so you have a chance to toggle through several different views within the driver cars of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and several other drivers, and you have the option of listening to their communications as well. For those who are subscribers to it, it's similar to the NASCAR HotPass option available on some satellite and cable providers. The picture itself is decent, albeit in full frame, and in some cases, the communication is a little bit nonexistent, and like listening to that channel on the plane where the pilots talk to the tower. But the angles have been and always will be quite good and it's a solid presentation.
Moving onto Disc Two, there are two hour-long features about the race (that might have been produced for television purposes). "The Champions" was done around an appearance of the surviving champions, as they recall what it was that took them to Victory Lane, and what they think of the race that's held each year. It also includes any available television footage of the race victories and post-race celebrations through the years, and it's quite a good look at the race through their eyes, and each winner is interviewed for some amount of time, so the comprehensive factor of the piece is solid. To see the piece wrap with a picture of all the winners is a sight, as this is arguably the last time a collection of greatness like this will be in one room again. The other piece, titled "The Legacy" is a roundtable discussion with some of the winners, particularly Michael and Darrell Waltrip, Mario Andretti, Junior Johnson, Pete Hamilton and several others, and is a little more informal and much more jovial than the other piece, as each has fond memories not only about their win, but about their era in general, and this is also very good. Some downloadable screensavers and wallpaper for your PC are an option as well.
One thing this disc does, to its credit, is that it doesn't flinch from discussing the achievements of Dale Earnhardt. The "Intimidator," aptly nicknamed due to his racing style, was so close to winning so many different times, that his eventual win is given the right emotional note that it deserves. Earnhardt's tragic death is given some discussion time but not shown, and through the tear-soaked eyes of Darrell Waltrip, who was emotional for his brother Michael's win at the track, to see him look at turn four to find out "if Dale's OK" is a touching moment in retrospect now. Overall I was impressed by this honesty by NASCAR to include Earnhardt in the celebration; others might have whitewashed it and ignored how compelling the story was and how great a driver he was, but not here.
This is NASCAR's first effort into video compilations, that I know of anyway, and it was pretty good. The next thing to do if I was running the show would be to do compilations and interviews with the living legends like Junior Johnson and Bobby Allison, if for nothing else because who knows how much longer they'll be around, and I don't mean it callously. Then I would release old races, similarly compressed if necessary, for the hardcore fan. Nevertheless, if you're going to do something for the first time, you can't get much better than the Daytona 500. A definite recommendation for NASCAR fans, and a strong rental for casual race fans for the second disc of material.
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