My Brain on NASCAR: Season like watching Dippy the Drinking Bird

col-cathyelliottI know I am not alone in saying that perhaps the most exciting thing about the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season so far has been watching young drivers Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson race to the front of the field (or earn starting spots there with strong qualifying efforts) week after week.

Remember the old ketchup commercial with that big glob of Heinz taking its own sweet time falling from the bottle to the burger while Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” played in the background? This season has been a lot like that.

But while anticipation is great, it does wear thin after a while, and I have noticed that while I’m watching the race every week, I am sometimes lulled into a zombie-like state when too many laps pass without some sort of incident to break them up.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Waiting a while for something new or different to happen just makes it that much more exciting when it does, which brings me to the unlikely subject of the infamous “Drinking Bird” or, as we used to call him back in the day, “Dippy.”

When I was kid growing up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, you ranked really low on the social strata if your family didn’t have a drinking bird in the house (and no, I’m not referring to your wacky Uncle Jimmy).

In case the inconceivable happened and you missed this particular pop culture phenomenon – which would be difficult for me to believe because seriously, folks, it ranked right up there with magic sea monkeys and pet rocks in terms of coolness and popularity – here’s how the drinking bird, AKA Dippy, worked.

There was no complicated setup. You took the little bird out of the box, filled a glass with water, and dunked his head in it until it was thoroughly wet. Then you sat back and watched the show.

Once Dippy was dunked in that water, he developed a powerful thirst. His head began ever-so-slowly bobbing back and forth toward the glass. With every bob of the head he got a little closer to the surface of the water, only to pop back up without getting close enough for even the tiniest sip.

He was tenacious and never stopped moving. Relentlessly he dipped and bobbed, advancing a few millimeters at at time while his anxious audience just sat there and watched, Yoo-Hoos and PBJs all but ignored, tiny beads of sweat on our upper lips, mesmerized by the show. He would get so, so close … and then pop back up, still thirsty. It seemed to last forever, but we never budged, just sat there watching and waiting for something to happen.

And that, my friends, sums up my 2016 NASCAR experience so far.

Later this year you’ll get a lot of nostalgic words from me as Tony Stewart runs his last few races and news of other retiring drivers begins to trickle in. We’ve seen some decent contests and a handful of spectacular finishes, but other than Stewart, in my opinion the biggest story of the 2016 season is the performances we have seen from Larson and Elliott. Honoring the past is great, but getting a clear and hopeful look into the future is even better.

NASCAR’s Dippys are still hard at work, pushing at a wall that they are destined to knock down sooner or later. They have brought some much-needed excitement back into the sport, and have increased interest among the general public as a result. They’re REALLY thirsty, fighting hard to get that first taste of water, and no one wants to miss seeing that when it happens. I certainly don’t.

Elliott and Larson may be reminding us of ketchup at the moment, but don’t worry; those two are definitely getting ready to show us that they can really cut the mustard.

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