NASCAR has Daytona, Stock Outboard has The Winter-Nationals

The “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing”

NASCAR often refers to Daytona as the Super Bowl of stock car racing.  The odd twist with NASCAR that makes “the super bowl of stock car races” different than, well … The Super Bowl is that it’s held at the beginning of the season.  I always found that a little weird; shouldn’t the last race be the Super Bowl? Shouldn’t the series champion be crowned at the Super Bowl?  So why is Daytona considered the Super Bowl?  In actuality the phrase probably got coined years back before many of the other NASCAR venues were as large as they are now and the wholeDaytona Daytona experience was so much larger than the other races on the circuit.  Probably those in the marketing division have, at least at some point, wished this title could be moved later in the season when the series championship is on the line and NASCAR is up against the NFL for TV ratings, but it certainly can’t.  So if the series champion isn’t immediately crowned at the conclusion does it really deserve this name?  It certainly is a big race, it’s the season kick off, it has all the fanfare, all of the teams are portrayed as having spent the entire winter preparing for this race (don’t you think they prepared for at least some of the others as well?), in terms of points it’s a clean slate … wait … that’s it! … A clean slate!  No matter what happened last year, no matter what went wrong along the way, no matter where you finished last season, everyone has a clean slate.  At the end of the race those elusive “points” are handed out and how you did in that race alone sets where you show up in the standings.  Your season has either started out fantastic, mediocre, or “there’s work to do” to put together the season that you dreamed of all winter.  As fellow points chasers, we as boat racers can appreciate this.

NASCAR has Daytona, Stock Outboard has the Winter-Nationals

Bob DunlapWell, NASCAR has Daytona and we in boat racing have The Winter Nationals.  Now I’m not going to even try to portray race teams diligently working in their shops all winter with one goal in mind of winning the Winter Nationals.  Maybe there is someone, somewhere where that is the case but I assure you I haven’t met them yet.  My personal experience around the season opener with boat racers is that prep usually occurs somewhere between 24 hours and one week before, it consists of gathering up the gear, trying to remember if the shims laying in the boat are “the setup” or was it those on the bench in the trailer.  Oh, the trailer, if you’re from the northern

I thought the Trailer was over here ... wait, who's car is this?

I thought the Trailer was over here … wait, who’s car is this?

regions and your first race of the season is going to be the Winter Nationals then the first order of business is to dig the trailer out of the snow bank and re-pack the wheel bearings.  The motor work; pull them out of warm storage in the basement and hang them back in the trailer while muttering the comment “I guess there’s no reason that it shouldn’t run, ran well at the last race”.  Gather the safety gear, pack up everything “that grew legs and walked away” from the camper, hitch up and head out! Now I know some of you are working all winter, building boats, prepping gear, I see it on the forums and love it! … That’s my “hot stove racing” and I know full well you’ll probably win!  But I like thinking about it my way, isn’t that what’s great about our sport?  It’s a true hobby, it can be simple, and it allows time, especially in the off season to do other things.

…And like they just threw the Green Flag, You hit the road

The drive to the first race usually starts a little anxious.  Did we remember everything?  Did I lock the house and turn off the coffee maker? That first mile your eyes are almost completely in the mirrors doing a last visual inspection of the “hauler”; everything hitched, all doors latched, etc. If you have a co-pilot on your trip they’re probably getting situated in the seat next to you, tucking things under the seat, pulling out drinks and snacks for later, setting the radio.  Especially if you hauler is of the camper variety that first turn at speed, possibly as you pull on to the highway, yields more of a sense of emergency then freedom and call of the open road as inevitably “stuff” packed in the back shifts, crashes and settles and your co-pilot leaps to his or her feet to re-organize a bit and shut the cabinet door that swung open.

Ah, The open road!

There is going to be one cup of coffee that was just a little too big during one run between gas stations that are a little too far apart; your bladder is going to be challenged, you are going to think you might pee your pants!

Now depending on what region you’re leaving from you have somewhere between hours and days ahead of you.  You may be absolutely psyched to go racing but the trip is going to challenge your will.  If you’re close enough to get there in the night and you work (and let’s face, there aren’t any professional boat racers, we all do) then it’s Friday night and if you were the “smart guy” who snuck out of work early to get a jump on your trip to the races then now you find yourself maneuvering a twenty five foot camper hauling a 20 foot trailer though rush hour traffic as everyone else in the world has just escaped work for the weekend.  If you’re from one of the northern regions and the cabin fever was just too much this year you probably cashed in some sick time and maybe you got to leave during the daylight hours and miss the rush but it’s likely Traffic-Jam-2Mother Nature hasn’t given up yet in your region and there’s a good chance those woodworking works of art on the trailer behind you, your babies, are getting absolutely abused in ways they were never meant to be by rain, sleet, slush, maybe some snow and worst of all road salt.  At this point you’re only immediate reward for your escape is a long drive into the night; there’s going to un-budgeted money spent on snacks, coffee and larger than anticipated tolls.   There is going to be one cup of coffee that was just a little too big during one run between gas stations that are a little too far apart; your bladder is going to be challenged, you are going to think you might pee your pants!  Hopefully all else goes smooth and the only stuff that breaks or breaks down are things that can be fixed on the side of the road in the middle of the night.  If it does then you likely arrive at a town you’ve never been in before in the middle of the night and begin trolling the streets in your giant hauler looking for a vaguely marked pit entrance and (in the old days anyway) trying to decipher vague directions on a paper race circular by the dash-light (I know we all have GPS now).  …And you arrive, find a temporary unobtrusive place to park and SLEEP!

During the night you may be awoke here and there as your competitors land from their journey.  In the morning you slowly crawl out of bed, have a coffee and get the joints moving.  You probably need to do some hauler / trailer jostling, set up your pit area and your camping area as well.  The trailer gets opened, carts put together, boats taken down and you begin to set up all while assessing the competition up and down the beach and greeting old friends.  Who came?  Who’s here?  Who couldn’t make it? Who has that new boat?

And then everything … and I mean EVERTHING! changes!!!

Someone fires a motor on the beach, the sound sings in your ears but even more vivid on the senses … THE SMELL! For the first time this season the smell of race gas mixed “just right” with that of lake water tickles your nostrils.  Oh, that smell!  It’s similar to the leftover stench in your Kevlar but that went stale months ago.  That wonderful smell!  It’s race season!  It’s official!  It’s all worth it!

bruce beachThis must be the same for the NASCAR guys at Daytona, but I’ve been to NASCAR their race gas smell is mixed with burning rubber.  Lake water and race gas is just sooooo much sweeter!

An hour from now you’ll be at drivers meeting.  Two hours sitting in your boat waiting on the green.  Three minutes after that you’ll be lined up, full throttle watching that line and the hand on that clock.  Ten seconds later with full adrenaline looking left then right then left again and diving into the turn with either a narrow corridor of light in front of you or a wall of water and a fire hose in the face.  The weekend will fly by from here, your mind perfectly focused on perfection in your sport.  Get that timing down, nail that next start.  Your boat will become almost an extension of your body and instincts.  One hand controls your speed, the other sets your bearing.  You drive harder into the corners, if the nose rises “just that much” you hold tight and ride it out, if it rises “just that little bit more” you instinctively move your knee “to that other spot” or “tip” you shoulder forward “just so” as to put “just that much weight forward on the wheel”, none of which could be measured or demonstrated accurately on the beach.   You play chess with your competitors at 65 mph; his move is going to be … when he enters that next turn, I’m going to … so when he does this I’ll “get him” right there.1st turn

When the weekend ends you pack up and hit the open road back to reality, back to work and chores and daily activities but absolutely none of that is on your mind.  You re-live every move, every second leading to every start, and every image through every turn like it all happened in slow motion.  The road home is exactly the same length as the road down but you may not even notice.  The weight of the world is gone; your mind is on all the shop work “you should have done this winter”, finding solutions to those little nuances that weren’t quite perfect, either mechanically or physically and of course the next race!

Ladies and Gentlemen collect your points

As for those elusive points; just like Daytona, when you arrived the slate was clean, when you drive away after the weekend some competitors will be in a fantastic position to reach their goals and become champions, (especially since the Winter Nationals pay double) some mediocre and everyone will have work to do.  That’s racing!  That’s what we love and why we do it.




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