Saturday, August 05, 2006

Superheros, Supervillians, and the Brickyard 400 Preview

I don't watch many "reality" shows, except for racing and the Barrett-Jackson auctions, but the Sci-Fi geek in me burst out of the closet when I started watching Stan Lee's "Who Wants To Be A Superhero" on the Sci Fi Channel. The eleven contestants on the show are genuine freaks--grown men and women with imaginary "super powers," in home made costumes and trying to stay in character as they negotiate the challenges. The prize for the winner is a new Marvel Comics series and a Sci Fi original movie based on his or her character. That's it; no million dollars, no new car, no dream vacation. Fascinating stuff.
The show has its bogus moments--one contestant, the "Iron Enforcer," not only didn't fit in with the others, but he just seemed too stereotypical. You see his type everywhere, the bar bouncer who is pumped full of steroids and his own ego, the bullshit war stories, the Hulk Hogan tone of voice, and, basically, a Soldier of Fortune cover boy. My suspisions were confirmed when he obviously took a dive in the second challenge, was susequently eliminated from the competition, and then enlisted by Stan Lee as a supervillian.
The aforementioned second challenge provided enough drama to get me hooked on the show. The challenge was to climb over a fence, cross a yard patrolled by two vicious attack dogs, and reach the back door of the house. Of course, the contestants were provided with full dog armor to keep them from getting too badly hurt, and were told to give the command "uncle" if the dogs became more than the contestant could handle. Two men, "Major Victory" and "Feedback," literally carried or dragged the dogs to the back door in twenty-five seconds or less. The rest of the contestents, except for one woman, called "uncle" after twenty-five seconds or less. "Monkey Woman" was determined not to fail. As soon as she entered the yard, the two dogs hit her simultaneously, and she was knocked down so brutally it jarred my bones, just watching it. Mauled, dragged, stretched out, and literally tossed around by the dogs, Monkey Woman refused to call "uncle."After nearly ten minutes of truly heroic struggle, she finally made it to the back door of the house. To witness such fortitude and courage was truly awesome.
The NASCAR Nextel Cup is all about heroism. (Admit it--you were waiting for this segue, weren't you?) One fan's superhero is another fan's supervillian, but all of the drivers are heros of one sort or another. Every driver has the ambition, courage, and fortitude of Monkey Woman to win the race, the main goal being the thrill of winning. The prize money is secondary, if even important at all to the drivers. This weekend's race, The Brickyard 400--I won't call it by the sponser's name, just out of respect for tradition--takes place at a venue of superheroic proportions; the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). Legends are made at IMS. The drama is provided by the Nextel Cup Championship structure--only the top ten drivers in points can compete for the championship in the last ten races of the season--and there are only six races left before the cut off.
Jeff Gordon--a superhero to many fans and a supervillian to just as many--is already a legend. arguably one of the greatest race car drivers of all time. If he were to win the Brickyard, the legend would grow, for he would tie the Great Dale Earnhardt in total Cup Series wins at 76 victories, and tie the phenominal Formula One driver, Michael Schumacher, for the record 5 wins in a single series at IMS. A win by Gordon will be greeted with as many cheers as boos, and Jeff considers the boos a compliment. In my opinion, he should go for the supervillian image with all his gusto. He should change his name to "The Gordon." I would like to see him wearing a black cape and a black helmet and visor. I would like to see him complete the image by flipping off the fans who boo him. But NASCAR really doesn't need that kind of hype, so it is only a vision I have in my twisted mind.
Jimmie Johnson, the current points leader in the Cup Series, has not yet won a Brickyard. He certainly has the team and the talent to do so. Time and time again, he has come back from seemingly insurmountable odds to win races, or finish in the top five. He is always there. Still, as The Gordon's "Igor," he also fits into the supervillian category as much as he fits the superhero category. Johnson deserves a championship, and he will probably get one, possibly this year, but The Brickyard is a difficult race. It is not his kind of track, and, though he will have a top ten finish, I still don't see him winning.
Last year's Brickyard winner, and the Nextel Cup reigning champion is Tony "Smoke" Stewart, my personal superhero. Of course he is seen as a supervillian to many, but not at IMS, which is his home track. Last year's win was one of the greatest emotional moments in sports history, as Smoke realized his boyhood dream of winning at IMS, to the unanimous acclaim of over two-hundred thousand fans present at the event. Infamous for his on track temper, he hit what he refers to as "the red line" at Pocono, an angry reaction causing him to "ruin the day for two drivers," in his own words. In true superhero fashion, he not only apologized to the two drivers, but took the entire responsibility for the wreck. His temper has been his major adversary thoughout his career, but, with the intensity and determination of Monkey Woman, he can beat it. He is another driver who can be considered among the greatest, and a repeat win at the Brickyard this year is very likely.
Kasey Kahne, who finished the Brickyard second last year in a tight race with Smoke, is absolutely seen as The Knight In Shining Armor by many race fans. There is nothing villianous about the cute little guy, and he is another driver who would achieve unanimous acclaim from the fans if he were to win. He is the winningest driver so far this year, with four victories. There is no doubt that he has the fortitude it takes, and the talent, for he is driving a car that has been considered an underdog in many races, especially on the long tracks like IMS.
His partner, Scott Riggs is an underdog, but he can be very surprising. Missing the Daytona 500 due to poor qualifying time, he has refused to give up, and has had a few top ten finishes this season. He had some good practice times Friday, and should be considered a contender. It would be a surprising win, but it would begin the making of another Legend.
Speaking of Legends, stamina, endurance, and fortitude, there is Mark Martin, who has never had a win at IMS. In spite of his retirement last year, he is still racing full time in the Cup series. Many, many fans see Martin as a superhero, and he deserves the reputation. It is really fun and exciting to watch him race other drivers door to door, and I can truly imagine the reaction of the crowd if he were to take the Checkers. If this is really his last full time season in Cup, a Brickyard victory would be a good thing.
And there's the Rookie Wonder, Denny Hamlin. Already legendary in his first year in the Nextel Cup Series, with two wins and many top ten finishes, The Kid is a natural superhero. He is driving the same car in which he one the two races at Pocono this season, and that is one great steed to ride. His crew chief, Mike Ford is an experienced winner at IMS, so don't be surprised if Rookie Wonder puts another notch in his belt.
The biggest surprise could be Ken Schrader, who has been retired longer than Mark Martin, but is still driving full time in Cup. He could be considered the Master Mentor, although his winning record has been sparse lately. He procured Ernie Irvan's first sponsor in NASCAR Cup back in 1992, which happened to be Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet. And more recently, he encouraged Carl Edwards to promote himself to the NASCAR team owners. The venerable Schrader lives to race--he knows nothing except racing. A win for him, at the legendary brickyard, in the legendary Wood Brothers Racing's legendary #21 car, would be truly legendary.
Well, it's shaping up to be a super weekend, and it should be great fun watching the Brickyard 400. Good luck to all the fans and their favorite superhero drivers.
And, oh yeah, Go Monkey Woman, Go!

1 comment:

Babs said...

Schrader is looking good for this weekend. I think old Fatback is helping out that team.
Monkey Woman!!! LMAO!