- Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 December 2008 17:54
- Published on Wednesday, 10 December 2008 17:54
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NASCAR, founded in 1948, celebrated the completion of it’s 60th season last Friday night with its traditional season-ending awards banquet in New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel’s Grand Ball Room. The production staff that put together this year's telecast of the banquet should be commended for their presentation. For the first time in memory, it appeared to have been put together by someone who cares about the sport. The broadcast ran a bit over three hours, but had a nicely paced tempo and it really did not seem excessively long. The video clip presentations were interesting and well edited, particularly the historical pieces that surely brought back a lot of great memories for long-time race fans.
Unlike past guest comedians, this year's comedian, John Pinette, did not try to put together one of those strained “NASCAR” monologue’s that only succeed in producing a few strained laughs and show the comedian's ignorance of the sport. Mr. Pinette treated the audience to a bit of his regular standup act. He was really funny and it was apparent he loosened up the audience and put a crowd not used to being on stage in a tux and giving speeches in a more relaxed mood. The rest of the show benefited from his talented presentation.
In contrast to past years, and probably in respect for the tough economic climate, they did not announce the amount of money each of the top ten drivers received from the points fund as they were called to the stage. The one exception was Champion Jimmie Johnson, who Sprint Communications CEO Dan Hesse stated received a check For $7.4 million.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the evening was the surprise appearance of Cale Yarborough walking out on stage to present Jimmie Johnson with his third consecutive championship ring. Can you believe Cale Yarborough will turn 70 next March? It sure doesn’t seem like it’s been thirty years since he was tearing up the circuit. Another of life’s little reminders that we’re all getting a bit older and creakier.
Followed by a rousing standing ovation, Yarborough presented the championship ring to Jimmie Johnson. The two champions will be forever linked in NASCAR lore. This season, Johnson joined Yarborough as the only drivers to win three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championships. Yarborough accomplished the historic feat from 1976-78.
During Yarborough’s incredible three year stretch, he posted 28 wins, 70 top five and 74 top 10 finishes. “Somebody finally did it,” Yarborough said. “I set a pretty good record, didn’t I? It took them 30 years to tie it. There are only two of us who have done it in the 60 years of the sport. That’s a pretty good accomplishment. You know, I haven’t been to this banquet in several years, but tonight I feel like I got my racing spirit back. You know all he really did is tie the record. He still has to break it. He still has some work to do. I want to congratulate Jimmie, he’s a great man and a great racer. I know he’s going to win some more championships. Maybe he can skip a year though.”
Yarborough’s famous swagger continues to this day. During his speech, he told team owner Rick Hendrick that if there is a ride open in his stable, he could have the first 70 year-old champion.
Johnson matched Yarborough’s record with another typically brilliant performance in 2008. Johnson had seven wins, 15 top fives, and 22 top 10’s. “What a surprise and what an honor to have Cale present me with the championship ring,” Johnson said. “I’m pretty much floored.”
The Yarborough ring presentation was the culmination of a night filled with memory making moments. Earlier in the program, Betty Jane France, widow of former NASCAR Chairman and CEO Bill France Jr. introduced Academy Award winning actor Kevin Costner, who made some remarks commemorating the 60th anniversary season of NASCAR. Costner was later joined on stage by seven-time champion Richard Petty, who spoke on the impact NASCAR has had on his life and the tremendous growth of the sport.
Earlier in the week Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. was announced as having been voted the Sprint Cup Series Most Popular Driver for the sixth consecutive year. Coincidently the driver of his JR Motorsports Nationwide Chevrolet Brad Keselowski was voted the Most Popular Driver in the Nationwide Series.