I've never been a huge purveyor of televised or live sport, so I find it somewhat unsettling, what I perceive to be an undue amount of national grief over a sports icon. People crying over someone they watched on TV every weekend. Sure it's a tragedy, but the man willingly took control of a vehicle and pushed the very limitations of Newton's three laws for most of his adult life, and was still doing it at an age when most men are driving ten miles under the speed limit with a forgotten blinker still flashing. All truth told, he probably wouldn't have wanted to die any other way: the thrill of blazing the final lap of the Daytona 500, holding off a pack of challengers from his fellow team mate and son, that "oh shit" feeling of the car losing control, the split-second responses where man becomes an extension of the machine... and then nothing. He probably never knew what hit him.
Frankly I think it's rather sickening that so much grief is displayed. The very nature of stock car racing is one where the mechanical variables are so precisely balanced and the window for perceptible human triumph is so miniscule that the only truly spectacular moments occur when man or machine, or some combination thereof really fucks up. When they show racing highlights on the news, they show the crashes, the winner crossing the finish line, and drinking his milk in the winner's circle.
Of course, maybe I just don't understand the sport. My brother would argue that nothing is a sport unless there's a motor involved. He assures me that hockey counts because of the zamboni. So does golf, even if it is just an electric motor.
Then again, every summer he drives a car at county fairs where the object of the sport IS to crash, and to have the last car running. Go figure.