CONCORD, N.C. — There is no doubt this year has been pretty awful for a lot of people.
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t take the time to appreciate some of the things we’re fortunate enough to still enjoy in this pandemic-plagued world.
Without speaking for anyone else, I am comfortable saying racing has been a valuable way to escape what’s going on in the world these days. Being able to tune into a race, any race, has allowed me to focus on something fun for a few hours.
While COVID-19 has certainly made holding racing events more difficult, the racing we have been fortunate enough to enjoy has been consistently above par.
Sure, not every race is going to be a barnburner, but it feels like more often than not we’ve been talking about fantastic finishes, and there are so many great stories to be told from these events.
From dirt to asphalt, from NASCAR to the World of Outlaws, from IndyCar to Formula One, the racing has been memorable.
The first event that comes to mind is a Sheetz Mid-East Modified Tour race at North Carolina’s 311 Motor Speedway in May. The feature was wild, but the ending was even crazier. Andrew Durham was leading the race exiting the fourth turn on the final lap when the left-rear wheel on his car broke.
With Durham’s car disabled, Jeff Parsons stormed past to claim the victory.
Then there was the finish to the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway later that month when Kyle Busch and Austin Cindric battled for the lead following an overtime restart. Busch won that day, but Cindric’s performance was a sign of things to come for the Team Penske driver, who later won five Xfinity Series races.
A week earlier, Busch was involved in an incident with Chase Elliott during a NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Busch’s Toyota tapped Elliott’s Chevrolet late in the race with Elliott spinning into the wall. A few days later, Elliott outran Busch to win the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Charlotte.
There was also the incredible finish to the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington in May, when Chase Briscoe bested Busch to score an emotional victory after Briscoe found out only days before his wife had miscarried their first child.
Short-track racing has also been entertaining. I was lucky to be in the infield to watch Matt Craig and Bubba Pollard go to war during a CARS Tour late model event at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway in mid-June. They battled all the way to the final lap, with Craig spinning out of turn four while trying to hold off Pollard.
In fact, the CARS Tour has played host to several thrilling finishes in the last few months, including an awesome race at Franklin County Speedway in Virginia that saw Mike Looney and Jared Fryar put on a whale of a show with Fryar prevailing.
The NTT IndyCar Series has also presented some enjoyable events. Who can forget the first race of the doubleheader at Iowa Speedway when Simon Pagenaud started last and marched through the field to pick up an emphatic victory?
Then, there was the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500, which saw Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon engage in a battle for the ages. The race, unfortunately, ended under caution due to Spencer Pigot’s violent crash, but the action leading up to it couldn’t have been better. Sato earned his second Indy 500 victory.
When talking about thrilling performances, one must mention Kyle Larson. Never afraid of a challenge, Larson climbed into a dirt late model at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway and won a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series feature in only his second start. At this writing, the talented California driver was approaching 40 victories on the season. Is there anything he can’t drive?
That brings us to Formula One, which more often than not is usually a parade of cars chasing Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. However, during a chaotic Italian Grand Prix in early September, Hamilton was penalized for a pit-road infraction, leaving the door open for a significant surprise.
Pierre Gasly grabbed the brass ring and ran with it, scoring his maiden Formula One victory and the second for the AlphaTauri team.
The site of Gasly sitting on top of the podium, alone with his thoughts after his first Formula One triumph, is an image I’ll remember for a long time.
The previous day at Darlington, Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain waged a war for the lead during the Labor Day weekend NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Track Too Tough to Tame.
However, Chastain and Hamlin crashed racing to the white flag, handing the victory to third-place runner Brandon Jones.
All in all, we’ve been pretty lucky this year. Don’t forget that.