The Final Word…thankfully of just a single race


I am not a very expressive guy when it comes to watching sporting events. I have long come to realize there are more important things in life than a winning result. Then, there are times when something takes place that is truly important. Something that brings forth emotion.


19 years ago was one of those moments. My wife had convinced me to forsake the Daytona 500 finish to go out shopping. It was a race that made me laugh as Dale Earnhardt gave a one-finger salute to a rookie by the name of Kurt Busch. The Intimidator was taking no guff from the cocky kid. As we pulled back into the driveway, we heard the news on the car radio.


My enthusiasm for covering NASCAR may have diminished over recent years, but there have been no more shopping sprees to interrupt the Great American Race since. My PVR had caught up to the live action and I was glued to the tube as Ryan Newman made his bid to claim the prize. He came close, then came a bump and a hard right into the wall.


While Denny Hamlin was edging out Ryan Blaney at the line, we watched Newman’s upside down flaming wreckage slide down the track. It did not look good. Then they showed the replay.


Newman was upside down. Vulnerable. A sitting duck. Corey Lajoie had no place to go to avoid what came next. His car hit Newman’s right on the driver’s side. Hard. You could see where he hit and the damage it caused.


My wife and I went out to join some fellow runners for a trek out into a cold winter night. It was therapeutic. As my spikes hit the ice with each step I managed to forget for a moment those fears, that emotion. Then it was over and those emotions returned.


NASCAR news was coming to us over Sirius radio in the car as we headed back home. An update. Serious condition, but not life-threatening injuries.


As I write this, I do not know exactly what that means. I prefer to think it means good news. I prefer to believe it means a guy out of his car seat for a while, a man slowly mending at home, a big burly impatient ornery bear driving his wife crazy as he dreams of a return to the track.


That is what I choose to believe. That is my hope. It is not who won the race that is important, but the news I have as I finish the day. That brings me some comfort. Some things are more important than who won, but who survived.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

Ron Thornton
A former radio and television broadcaster, newspaper columnist, Little League baseball coach, Ron Thornton has been following NASCAR on this site since 2004. While his focus may have changed over recent years, he continues to make periodic appearances only when he has something to say. That makes him a rather unique journalist.

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  1. I hated re-living February 18, 2001 but that is exactly what I did last night and the pain of that fateful evening came rushing back. Some pain and some memories never fade away no matter how much time passes. Every time I think possibly they have subsided, something like the 2020 Daytona 500 finish reminds me that they are still just as fresh and deep and as painful as they were back then. Best wishes for a speedy and full recovery to you, Ryan Newman.


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