So close, and yet so far...

Remember the intro to ABC's Saturday afternoon sports extravaganza, "Wide World of Sports"? Jim McKay's voice would intone "The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat..." over images of the best and worst in sports. I spent quite a few Saturdays of my youth watching it and can still hear that music running through my head. The agony of defeat holds more meaning this morning, which I'll get to in a moment.

Some of you know that I'm married to a major gearhead. If it's got an engine and wheels and is racing somewhere, my man will be watching it (and younger son, too). When I started dating this man, I found out how passionate he was about motorsports, especially Nascar. As I wanted to understand what made him tick, I started following it. It wasn't too difficult-as I'd worked with people at a previous job that shared his passion for the sport.

I told him that I'd follow the sport for a while before choosing a favorite driver. Where I lived was an easy area to follow the sport-there was even a Nascar themed store right in the mall I worked. I could go talk the sport with like minded individuals. The driver I wanted to root for had to be sportmanlike and not a blowhard. So it was a process of elimination. I was down to two drivers in a few months, Sterling Marlin and Mark Martin. Sterling showed every bit of class that season on moving down to allow another driver his shot at a win when it was clear to Sterling that his car didn't have enough to make it to victory lane.

However, the driver I ultimately chose to root for was (and is) Mark Martin. The man is passionate about the sport, but is honest with himself-almost to a fault. He'll praise his team to high heaven, but won't brag on himself. He's consistently been a top 1o driver and if not for Nascar's propensity for interpreting their rules inconsistently, he would have been a champion a few times.

Yesterday was the Daytona 500, the HUGE race that begins the racing season. A race that usually finds Mark leaving the track somewhere at the bottom of the ranks. He's not a restrictor plate driver, and the first race of the season is restrictor plate racing. That he usually ends the season in a top spot after leaving the first race ranked in the 30's is a testament to the man's racing ability.

This year is different. Mark's with a new team, a new manufacturer and in a new car. I walked in the door from work last night to find Ed hyperventilating. The race was red flagged (cars stopped on the track) with three laps to go and MARK WAS IN THE LEAD. This was a nailbiter.

Alas, he lost the race by a nose. Yes, I'm upset-his sportsmanlike way meant he didn't rub Kevin Harvick to slow Kevin down and guarantee that Mark would win. However, at the same time, I'm ecstatic that the man is leaving Daytona in second place.

This year is supposed to be a part time season for Mark, he's supposed to take his first 'break' at one of his least favorite tracks, Bristol Motor Speedway. That said, I have a feeling that the man will be racing that track this year-because he'll be too high up in the points to consider anything else.

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