It’s banquet season now that the racing season is over. I watched the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series banquet on dirtvision.com and I attended the Attica Raceway Park/Attica Fremont Championship Series banquet in person.
A lot of people would rather go to the dentist than attend a banquet, especially if they have to dress up or speak to the crowd.
For the driver or team member who is expected to get up and accept their award and make a speech, going to a banquet can be an anxiety-riddled affair.
I can empathize, because I am not very good at public speaking myself because it is hard to be in front of a crowd of people when you are the only one in the room talking and everyone there is focused on you.
Some might find that surprising, because I am the analyst on the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series and the Ollies Bargain Outlets All Star Circuit of Champions television broadcasts, which could have tens of thousands of people watching.
But there is a big difference when working a TV broadcast verses being in front of all those eyeballs that are staring back at you.
In the days of the live sprint car racing TV broadcasts, we would do an on-camera open for the show. An “open” is when the anchor, or play-by-play announcer, and the analyst look into the camera right at the beginning of the broadcast and explain what you might expect to see throughout the night.
Usually the open was roughly only about one minute long, and then we would focus on watching the race and, in my case as an analyst, do my best to explain what you were seeing and how and why certain things were happening the way they were.
I’ll admit I struggled at times during the open because, even though there wasn’t a room full of people in front of me, in the back of my mind I knew there are a LOT of people looking at their televisions.
And, being live, any mistakes would be seen by all who were watching.
But, for me, that was still far easier than public speaking is, because I was only looking at a small camera lens instead of looking at living, breathing human beings, and it was for a very short time compared to giving a long speech.
Watching the drivers’ and team members’ acceptance speeches during the banquets that I saw, you could tell who was a little uncomfortable and those who were extremely uncomfortable, and you could immediately tell who were the most comfortable.
There are even those who are not only really comfortable, but enjoy and savor being in the limelight, and they usually deliver a great speech.
I think banquets are important, because they are a chance to celebrate the season with your crew and friends in a casual atmosphere, without the pressure of competing to win. It’s also a time for the drivers and teams who might’ve been fierce competitors on the race track to cut loose and enjoy each other’s company, (maybe) even if only for a few hours.
It’s a good time for drivers to thank their sponsors and teams, whether they are the WoO champion thanking a major company or the local 305 champion who might be thanking the guy who keeps the cooler stocked with ice and beer all season.
This year’s WoO banquet was one of the most emotional in years. Every year there are those who aren’t afraid to let their emotions out for the public to see and there are those who are more reserved, but there were several drivers, team members, and even WoO officials who shed a few tears this year.
I think a lot of what we saw was the pent up emotions coming out after a long and grueling season that saw the tightest point battle in WoO history. The 2019 champ, Brad Sweet, and 10-time champ Donny Schatz swapped the point lead back and forth several times, with the championship not decided until the final lap on the final night of the season.
My heart was pounding the last 10 laps of the race, and I didn’t have a dog in the hunt, as they say, but I have been in points battles and I know how much work and sacrifice goes into putting a complete season together.
Ultimately, someone was going to win and someone was going to lose!
To quote the old ABC Wide World of Sports intro, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” was going to be felt by two drivers and their teams.
It’s incredible that, after 72 completed WoO races, Sweet won the title by a mere four points.
The All Star Circuit of Champions also saw a great points battle between six-time champion Dale Blaney and the defending champion, Aaron Reutzel.
Like Sweet and Schatz, they too swapped the points lead back and forth several times until about mid-season, when Reutzel pulled away with a very strong second half of the schedule and took the championship by 158 points.