FOX Sports Exclusive
Super Bowl — Super Race
One of my favorite sayings and one of my Golden Rules is that an event will be big only if you make it big. Now, mostly, you see press conferences or product unveilings or special announcements that are big because of all the hype leading up to it.
Those, however, are one-shot deals. They have their moments in time in the spotlight and then everyone moves on to the next event.
Conversely, what makes a super event, not just big event, is the tradition and history of it. These are the events that have a deep, rich history in their respective sports. So Sunday was the Super Bowl for the National Football League. Three weeks from now, we will run the Daytona 500, which has been called NASCAR’s Super Bowl.
NASCAR on FOX brings live coverage of the Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. The green flag drops at 1 p.m. ET, with coverage on FOX beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Let’s take a look at some of the history and legacy that make up the Super Bowl and makes the Daytona 500 the Great American Race.
Obviously, the Daytona 500 has run every year in Daytona Beach, Fla., since the track opened in 1959. Augusta is home of the Masters. The Indy 500, naturally, is run in Indianapolis. The World Series goes back and forth between the two opposing teams' cities. It’s the same with the NBA Finals.
The Super Bowl isn’t like that. The game is awarded to a different city each year regardless of who is playing in it. Prospective host cities place bids years in advance to the NFL, and the site for the Super Bowl is awarded based on the NFL owners' vote. Did you know that a participating Super Bowl team has never played the Super Bowl in its home stadium?
There are a lot of similarities between the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500, but there are also a lot of differences. For a football fan, there is no greater game than the Super Bowl. For a NASCAR fan, there is no greater race than the Daytona 500. They are the pinnacle events each year in their respective sports.
As a driver, you can win races and you can win championships. But believe me: If you don’t have the Daytona 500 trophy in your collection, well then, your career is never really complete. It’s the same thing in the NFL. You have many Pro Football Hall of Famers who have never won a Super Bowl, and, to a man, they will tell you it’s the one thing they regret — not having that Super Bowl ring.
In three weeks, we will have the 54th running of the Daytona 500 and our NASCAR on FOX team will cover all the action. This weekend was the 46th Super Bowl, but the NFL uses Roman numerals to identify each game, rather than the year in which it is held. That’s why it's referred to as Super Bowl XLVI.
Even the name “Super Bowl” has an interesting origin. The game was created following the merger of the NFL and the old American Football League. The legendary owner of the then-AFL Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar Hunt, first used the term "Super Bowl" during the merger meetings. Later, Mr. Hunt would say he thought the name was probably in his head because his children had been playing with a toy called a Super Ball. If you ever travel to Canton, Ohio, to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there is actually an example of that ball on display there.
There are huge television ratings that each event delivers, both featuring brand new and usually really funny commercials being seen for the first time. Casual football fans will tell you they sometimes simply tune in to see the new commercials and watch the halftime show.
That’s one big difference between the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500; they have a halftime and we don’t. This year’s Super Bowl featured Madonna performing at halftime. Trust me when I tell you, though, the drivers in this year's Daytona 500 will be much more interested in our halfway mark. The leader at that point of the race earns the Daytona 500 Mid-Race Leader Award. That’s a cool $200,000 payout to one driver.
That’s another area that can’t be overlooked, the financial side. In the first Super Bowls, each player on the winning side was given a $15,000 bonus. In Super Bowl XLVI, players on the winning team earned roughly $88,000.
To put that into perspective, look at the Daytona 500 throughout the years.
In 1959, when Daytona opened, winner Lee Petty won $19,050. In 1971, Richard Petty won $45,450 for taking the Daytona 500 checkered flag. I won $184,900 in my 1989 Daytona 500 victory.
Last year, Trevor Bayne — at the ripe old age of 20 years, 1 day — upset the NASCAR world and won the Daytona 500. He pocketed a stunning $1.5 million.
You’ve all heard the clichés about upsets — “that’s why they play the game” or “on any given Sunday” or “that’s why we race” — and the same holds true for the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500.
This year’s Super Bowl was a rematch between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. In 2007, the Patriots were absolutely perfect at 18-0 going into the Super Bowl. New York barely made it into the playoff’s as a wild-card team yet upset the Patriots 17-14.
Super Bowl III saw the Baltimore Colts favored by 18 points over the New York Jets of the AFL. Leading the underdog Jets was their young, colorful quarterback, Joe Willie Namath, who was so bold as to guarantee a Jets victory. True to his word, the Jets won 16–7 and Namath was selected the MVP. It actually took injured legend Johnny Unitas coming off the bench, sore arm and all, near the end of the third quarter to lead the Colts to a touchdown to avert a complete shutout.
The Daytona 500 is the same way. Just when you think you might know who is going to win, the racing gods step in and remind you that you really don’t and why we race until we all see the checkered flag. Dale Earnhardt was leading the 1990 Daytona 500 on the last lap going into the third turn when he had a tire go down and Derrike Cope upset the NASCAR world and won the race.
Just go back to the very first Daytona 500 in 1959. It was a photo finish, and it took NASCAR three days to finally declare Lee Petty the winner. To me, last year’s win by Bayne was the greatest Daytona 500 upset. No one saw it coming. No one would have given that young man who was running his first Daytona 500 a chance.
Let me put it into perspective for you. Bayne’s Daytona 500 win was so unexpected that his father was in a laundromat at 3 a.m. after the race doing Bayne’s laundry so he would have clean clothes for the upcoming media storm. Then, NASCAR literally took Bayne across the street from the Speedway to the Mall so the young man could get the necessary clothes for all the national appearances he was going to make all over the country.
One of the marked differences between the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500 is timing. Now I don’t mean timing of year, because they both are actually pretty close together. What I am referring to is where it falls in their respective seasons.
The Super Bowl is a culmination of four preseason games, 16 regular-season games and then making it through the playoffs. You can view it like the payoff for all your hard work and dedication throughout the year. You often find find both teams beaten up pretty good and some guys can’t even play because of various injuries.
In NASCAR, we do it completely the opposite. Our version of the Super Bowl is our very first event of the season. Everything at that moment in time is the best of the best. The team has been working on your Daytona car and package since probably August of the previous year. Testing is over. Qualifying and the preliminary events are over.
Trust me, when they roll through that tunnel in about a week and a half, every driver, every owner, every sponsor, every crew chief and every team member feels they are going to win the Daytona 500. The cars have new paint schemes. The uniforms are new. Morale is never higher. The excitement and expectations are never greater. Everyone is starting the new season believing this is their year.
Let me put it another way and use a food analogy. With the Super Bowl, it’s like dessert for the two remaining teams, their organizations and their fans. The preseason is their appetizer. The regular season is their entrée.
In our sport, the Daytona 500 is the entrée. It’s the main dish. It’s what everyone is waiting for. The Budweiser Shoot Out, Qualifying, and the Duels all are the appetizers. Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012 for 200 laps is the main course. Some driver’s life will be changed forever.
Sure, you can win at Las Vegas, Bristol, Chicago, etc. — and that’s awesome. You beat the best NASCAR had to offer on that particular day. Sunday night, you take home the trophy and deposit the winners check but you immediately start looking at the next race. When you win the Daytona 500, it stays with you forever.
Just like everything else, though, whether it’s the Super Bowl or the Daytona 500, it really comes down to the people, the relationships and the memories you make along the way. In many cases in both sports, it is a family affair.
In the NFL, you’ve had Bob Griese and his son Brian as Super Bowl winners. Additionally, you have Emery Moorehead and his son Aaron on a very exclusive list as father/son Super Bowl winners.
It’s the same way here in NASCAR with the Daytona 500. Lee and Richard Petty, Bobby and Davey Allison and Dale and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are father/son combos that have their name inscribed on the Harley J. Earl Trophy that is given to Daytona 500 winners.
Taking it one step further, Peyton and Eli Manning are among the few brothers who have each won a Super Bowl — and the other cool thing is they also both won the Most Valuable Player award in the Super Bowl.
In the history of NASCAR, there is only one set of brothers to ever win the Daytona 500, and their last names are Waltrip.
So here we are on Super Bowl Sunday or actually, this year I am just calling it Super Sunday because I turned 65. There were 70,000-plus in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium at Indianapolis rooting for either the Giants or the Patriots in their celebrated rematch and millions more at home and around the world tuning in.
Legendary broadcaster Ken Squier dubbed the Daytona 500 as “The Great American Race.” There will be roughly 250,000 fans watching the race from the grandstands and the infield, as well as millions watching at home and abroad.
So on Sunday, one sport closed the book on its season with its greatest event as two teams battled it out until the final gun to be crowned the new champion. Later this month, another sport begins its season with its greatest event with the dreams of 43 drivers hoping to be crowned champion of the Daytona 500.
Who wouldn’t agree that February 2012 is really super?