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NASCAR's First Race Back After 9/11 Was AWESOME

Jamie Squire. Getty Images.

This will be the last 9/11-related blog I write this year… I promise.

Every year around the anniversary of the attacks, someone inevitably posts the clip of George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at the Yankee game after our nation's sports franchises re-opened for business.

The image of W toeing the rubber wearing a bulky FDNY quarter-zip fleece that hid a bulletproof vest became a symbol of a step toward a return to normalcy following the attacks, both for New York City and the United States… And the unanimous applause captured the spirit of Americans coming together after someone fucked with thousands of our own.

I am not sure if it is the greatest patriotic clip of all time, but I defy you to find a more moving first pitch… Perhaps retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Keaton crawling on his belly up the side of the mound and then throwing the baseball as if he was tossing a grenade at a Nationals game is a close second…

But what did other sports do once the country re-opened for live events?

The answer is… I don't give a fuck.  

But since I do a racing podcast, I decided to specifically take a peek at how NASCAR handled their sport's return in 2001, and I wasn't disappointed with what I discovered.

After 9/11, NASCAR moved that weekend's New Hampshire 300 to late November, so the 2001 MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 on September 23rd wound up being the first race since the attacks.

The race was run at Dover Downs International Speedway and was named the Cal Ripken Jr. 400 because Cal was meant to be the Grand Marshall of the race and then be whisked away to Camden Yards to play the last game in his storied 20-year career as an Oriole.

The baseball schedule was altered because of all the rescheduling the week before, but Cal was still at the race that day, fulfilling all of his Grand Marshall duties.

Outside of Cal, there were a bunch of other cool tidbits about that race.

All of the fans in attendance were given American flags, so, during the pre-show, the grandstand had 70,000 patriotic race fans waving their flags furiously like they were having the world's biggest simultaneous epileptic fit. 

Lee Greenwood sang "God Bless the USA", and Tanya Tucker sang "God Bless America" but both were drowned out with chants of "USA!… USA!"… I wasn't there, but I assume nobody took a knee while Lee or Tanya were singing.

All of the cars featured American flag decals, but Ken Schrader went one further and removed every sponsor and decal from his car and completely painted the 36 as an American flag… 

Jamie Squire. Getty Images.

M&M's would recreate that scheme ten years later for Kyle Busch in 2011 at Richmond Raceway.

Tom Pennington. Getty Images.

There was another thing that happened that day that I believe would not happen anywhere else… If you have never seen a race live, then you may not know NASCAR fans are allowed to bring coolers with them to their seats in the grandstand.  The coolers have to fall within certain parameters so they fit under the seats, but it's a great option for families going to the race who may not be able to afford concessions.

But with the recent attacks, NASCAR implemented a security measure where coolers, backpacks, and large bags were banned… HOWEVER!… Concession prices were lowered in compensation for the new security measure.  And I think that's what makes NASCAR special.  I assume Yankee Stadium UPPED the prices of their concessions once word that the POTUS was showing up to throw out the first pitch.  Meanwhile, NASCAR and Dover LOWERED their prices to cater to their loyal fanbase.  

To complete the storybook day, the race winner was Dale Earnhardt Jr., whom I have gushed about before on the blog.  And Dale did his Polish Victory Lap while holding a giant American flag.

The whole scene amounted to what I call a giant "FUCK YOU" towards those cowards in the Middle East, and it was just what the doctor ordered for our bent-but-not-broken country.

So although it is nearly impossible to compete with the President of the United States throwing an absolute BB from the mound at Yankee Stadium, NASCAR did its part with Cal, Dale Jr., and 1/2 price beer.

Giphy Images.

Take a report.


A new episode of Rubbin' Is Racing just dropped, and Spider and I talk about who will make it to the round of 12, why NASCAR put stage breaks back into playoff road courses, and we interview a kid who went from being a waiter at Outback to driving the Outback truck in tonight's race…