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NASCARed for life/The Red Line

The Red Line

February 23, 2012
By Brandon Veale - DMG Sports Editor (bveale@mininggazette.com) , The Daily Mining Gazette

Let this be a warning to you, parents: Be careful what you let your young children watch on TV ... even if it's sports.

Little Brandon, 11, was sitting in the living room on a Sunday afternoon in February flipping channels - nothing was on and I'm guessing the sledding was bad. I landed on CBS, and they were showing a NASCAR race called the Busch Clash.

There was this rainbow-colored car, No. 24, driven by a young guy named Jeff Gordon. I was hooked and the seeds of a column 17 years in the making were planted.

I admit that I do not fit the profile of a typical NASCAR fan - for one thing, I brewed some Earl Grey tea before sitting down to write this column.

My racing career consists of Super Mario Kart and a few spins around the go-kart track at the late, great family entertainment center known as Moose Tracks in Marquette Township (now the parking lot of Target). When time came to get behind the wheel of a real machine, Dad's first words of warning were, "If I ever catch you racing, you'll never drive that car again."

Yet, when I wasn't sure if that tea had steeped long enough, I took a step back and counted to 24 before taking out the ball and stirring.

Fact Box

St. Cloud State at Michigan Tech

For what it's worth, every week feels like the most important series in recent history for Michigan Tech. Then again, it should be that way. This is the time of year for high stakes. But if this weekend's series against St. Cloud doesn't result in three or four points, the series at Colorado College next weekend won't matter nearly as much.

The Huskies are still in it, thanks to some helpful scheduling, but they're just about out of second chances. St. Cloud, one point behind Tech in eighth, is still fighting, too. It doesn't get any better than this.

If Tech wants to put itself in position for more home games after Saturday, to do it against a traditional bugaboo team would be as good a way as possible to end the home slatefor the regular season.

The Verdict: Tech sweeps 3-2, 5-2

Wisconsin at Bemidji St.

In the words of the Tech Pep Band, "It just doesn't matter!" OK, it matters a little, but the only thing up for grabs this weekend is probably playoff seeding within the league's lower third. Wisconsin, in particular, can move up to 10th with some points, as Minnesota State, with which it is tied, is idle. However, it won't, because Bemidji's pretty decent (11-4-1) at home, and Wisconsin has the worst road record (1-8-1) in the WCHA.

The Verdict: BSU sweeps 3-1, 2-1

Colorado College at Minnesota Duluth

Here's the first of three biggies: No. 4 at No. 2 in the WCHA standings. The bad news for Tech fans is that UMD's stumblings down the stretch continue. The Bulldogs threw away a point at Minnesota State Saturday after allowing two goals in 10 seconds with less than five minutes to play. They haven't swept a WCHA series since taking two at Tech in early December. Somehow, they're still in it, two points back of a Minnesota team that doesn't exactly have four in the bag this weekend either.

As for CC, they have the same colors and same tendency to play one good game per week as Tech does. The Tigers are 0-4-2 on Saturdays in 2012 and 4-2 on Fridays in the same span.

With more than a hint of wishful thinking, I see the Bulldogs finally figuring their stuff out and setting up showdowns at the top and the center of the WCHA standings for the final week.

The Verdict: UMD sweeps 5-3, 4-1

Minnesota at Nebraska-Omaha

Minnesota finally looked like a team that wants to win the MacNaughton Cup last weekend, sweeping Bemidji State 3-0 and 4-1 to expand its league lead to two points. Given the nature of the league this season, that almost certainly means the Gophers will fall flat on their pointy buck-toothed faces this weekend in Omaha.

After five points from a possible eight on key back-to-back road weekends, the Mavericks return home, where they've been a tad iffy. Their seven home wins is more than only Minnesota State and Alaska-Anchorage. With a split, the Gophers go in to the final weekend tied, and UNO can be happy with its position.

The Verdict: UNO 4-3 Friday, UMn 4-2 Saturday

North Dakota at Denver

Speaking of missed chances, Denver would have gone into this weekend two points out of the league leadif it hadn't gone and gotten beat 5-2 in Madison last weekend. With the split against UW, the Pioneers are four points out. It's not impossible, but with a trip to UNO next week, the other two title contenders have easier paths to the cup and points in hand.

As for North Dakota, it bounced the Pioneers from the WCHA Final Five and the NCAA Tournament last season, and it'll oust them from serious consideration for the WCHA title.

The Verdict: UND 5-4 Friday, DU 5-2 Saturday

Alaska at Alaska-Anchorage

This series pays no points, but the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup is up for grabs - something to salvage a series between the last-place Seawolves and the Nanooks, who are in next to last in the CCHA. UAA has stolen games from St. Cloud and UMD lately, so we'll give them the nod.

The Verdict: UAA sweeps 4-3, 3-2.

Last week: 7-3-2

For the season: 104-73-20 (57.8 percent)

Gordon went on to win his first championship in 1995, and as I grew, the sport did as well.

I use the term 'sport' here with a wink, because I know that many of you reading this do not believe that NASCAR, or motor racing in general, constitutes a sport. That's fine. It's my humble opinion that the definition of "What is a sport?" is possibly the most useless debate ever. Given enough time and caffeine, I could argue against golf or baseball or for chess or High School Bowl as sports. It just doesn't matter.

Not interested in NASCAR? That's cool. I'll see you for next week's column. It's going to be on Friday because of the tournaments.

Anyhow, the 24 car dominated throughout much of my youth, winning four championships over the next 10 years. It was easy to root for a winner, and I liked to think we had a few things in common. I was younger, not southern, not able or interested in using the alcohol or tobacco products advertised on other cars.

I remember where I was when Dale Earnhardt died: at a dress rehearsal for the school musical during my junior year of high school. I'm not sure if it was ever quite the same for me from then on, both for lack of the obvious heel that The Intimidator provided and for the fear that any of these gladiators could fall in the way Earnhardt did.

I caught races here and there on TV in college - but I was one of relatively few. As an age of Internet bubbles, excess and carefree college days transitioned into the 'real world' and recession, NASCAR lost much of its luster.

I still catch races now and then and I still get a little worked up about things like how stupid the Car of Tomorrow looks, how much I hate rain-shortened races and how much of a jerk Kyle Busch is.

I find NASCAR to be an example of two good American things: engineering and improvisation. Our cars aren't always perfectly tuned like those European Formula 1 cket ships. Sometimes, they bounce off each other and keep going, but that hint of technological and physical guesswork is essential.

Adjustments are mandatory. Good cars on lap 10 aren't always good on lap 100 unless the driver and crew are perpetually tinkering with the balance.

Yes, they're going around and around in circles, but so do baseball players and no one says they can't understand why anyone would hit the ball and run back to where they started.

The Daytona 500 is on Sunday. You might not want to sit through all of it, or even part. But I may try and dig up my Gordon t-shirt, brew another cup of tea and settle in. If you let your kid watch it, maybe 17 years from now, he'll have a column to write on it too.

Brandon Veale can be reached at bveale@mininggazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.

 
 

 

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