Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Storybook Ending

Another one of those "telling you a story in order to talk about insurance" stories.

This past Friday evening at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, NASCAR had a race in what is called the Nationwide Series (yes, it's sponsored by Nationwide Insurance).

The Nationwide Series is something of a minor-league series to NASCAR's main series, which is the Sprint Cup. However, several drivers who are in Sprint Cup also drive in Nationwide. Some do it full-time, others every once in a while.

The winner of this past Friday's race was one of those occasional drivers in the series. His name? Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Even casual sports fans, with little or no interest in NASCAR, know the name Dale Earnhardt Jr. He is the son of the late Dale Earnhardt, who alongside Richard Petty is NASCAR's most revered driver.

Earnhardt died in a crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. His death, perhaps more than any other event, defined the sport as it unleashed a torrent of grief among NASCAR's fan base.

Earnhardt's nickname was the Man in Black, referring to the paint scheme on his #3 Goodwrench-sponsored car. It was also an apt description of his menacing presence on the track. Earnhardt was as rough and tumble a driver as they come, never afraid to force his way to the front. He was also a self-made man, growing up in a hardscrabble environment and eventually overseeing a business mini-empire including his own multi-car racing team. One of those drivers at the time of his death was his son.

Following Earnhardt's passing, the expectations placed on Earnhardt Jr. from the get-go were amplified tenfold by a fan base which transferred their devotion from father to son, these in addition to Earnhardt Jr.'s original fans. By most standards he's had a solid career in NASCAR, winning eighteen races and often finishing high in the standings. However, his father won seven championships in what is now called Sprint Cup during his career. Earnhardt Jr. has never won one.

The past season and a half have been rough for Earnhardt Jr. No wins. Incessant talk that he's lost his edge, or that he was overrated from the beginning. A lot of pressure.

So how does he respond?

By bringing more on himself.

Several weeks ago, Earnhardt Jr. announced the culmination of a deal involving several race teams, including the one his father drove for and the one his father owned, for which he no longer drives. He would drive the #3 car for one race.

The Nationwide Series race during the Fourth of July weekend.

At Daytona International Speedway.

You know -- the place where his Dad died?

But he did it anyway.

And won.

Okay, the insurance part.

We are conditioned to believe in something -- anything -- other than happy endings. Life is hard, we are told. Fairy tales where everyone lives happily ever after simply do not happen.

Which is true most of the time.

Sometimes, the stars do align and everything else falls into place. Sometimes, the hero comes through in the end. Sometimes, the good guy wins.

Our job is to compensate for when he doesn't.

That's insurance in a nutshell.

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