They say all good things must come to an end. Sometimes the endings are expected and give us time to prepare, and at other times they come out of nowhere and take us by complete surprise. Such was the case when Carl Edwards, arguably one of the most beloved and personable individuals in all of Nascar, abruptly announced his immediate departure from racing in January, barely a month before Daytona Speedweeks would kick off the 2017 season in February.
To say that his loyal fan following (which, ever since his phenomenal 2005 rookie season, has included your writer) found themselves completely floored by the news, would be the understatement of the year. And to further state that the enigmatic tone of his official news conference left us with more questions than answers, would certainly be putting things mildly. But taking into consideration the fact that one’s reasons for certain personal choices are ultimately his own, it is not up to us to question why, but rather to support and respect the individual’s right to make said decisions. Bearing that in mind, this dedicated fan chooses instead to move past the shock of the sudden farewell and focus, instead, on the many qualities that made Carl so special and so adored in the eyes of those who faithfully followed his career through the years.
Ask any fan fortunate enough to have met him on any occasion, to share a first or most memorable impression, and you are likely to hear several reasons, first and foremost among them being his friendly demeanor and easy approachability. Over the years he gained quite the reputation for greeting fans with arguably one of the best smiles in all of Nascar, and not to mention the many signature hugs with which he was so generous. And though your writer has never known the privilege of meeting him face to face and being the lucky recipient of such, I’ve known more than a few who have, and no doubt the memories of their up close and personal encounters are now counted among their most treasured.
But Carl’s outgoing persona and friendly demeanor in the presence of fans only serve to scratch the surface of why he was so beloved. No doubt his fellow drivers would attest to his amazing displays of sportsmanship in the aftermath of disappointing finishes, sometimes even coupled with a touch of humor. Who could possibly forget his near-win at Talladega in 2009, dominating those final laps only to be sent into the fence and on a last lap nosedive courtesy of a tap in the rear from the driver who scored a first series victory at his expense? Yet it wasn’t so much the crash itself that was notable, so much as was his determination to finish the race even if he had to sprint across the start-finish line on foot after exiting his damaged car. The Ricky Bobby-inspired move may have been of little consolation to him or to his heartbroken fans at the moment, but looking at it in retrospect reminds one of the importance of graciously accepting life’s disappointments, learning from them and moving forward. And in what no one would ever have suspected to be the final lap of his racing career, Carl would demonstrate the importance of sportsmanlike conduct when it appeared that his first Cup series title was just around the next turn, only to be marred by another heartbreaking crash. In the aftermath of the unexpected, he immediately approached competitor Joey Logano, encouraging him to finish the race and win that first title–though the big prize would end up going instead to race winner Jimmie Johnson, sealing his place in the sport’s history as its third seven-time champion.
His 2016 quest for the title, however, will not be the most remembered achievement of his distinguished career. Without question, that honor ultimately belongs to the closest-ever championship battle between two equally deserving contenders: Carl and Tony Stewart. Fans of both drivers watched with great anticipation as the 2011 title came down to a single-point tiebreaker which would ultimately award the top honor not to Carl but instead to his esteemed competitor. In one respect, disappointing, yet from an objective perspective, one of the most enjoyable culminations to a season in the history of the sport, and certainly a tough act to follow come 2012.
Your writer could go on and on about Carl’s many redeeming qualities, including but not limited to the numerous giveaways of his racing trophies to his fans–many of whom were disabled or otherwise disadvantaged; or the time that he soldiered on and drove one particular race to completion despite the “slight inconvenience” of a broken foot (courtesy, if my memory serves me correctly, of a missed landing while catching a frisbee), driving that particular race with specially-approved modifications to his car to accommodate the temporary physical limitations; or those rare times (to the best of my recollection, only two of them) when fans weren’t treated to his signature victory celebration–a backflip off the side of his race car–out of respect for a national tragedy or at one point, when he felt that he earned the win by unintentionally taking out a fellow driver.
On a personal level, I think I’m going to miss the backflips most of all–though on a few occasions I admittedly cringed at the thought of a missed landing potentially resulting in a career-ending injury. Thankfully that scenario never came to be, but there were a couple of times when he cut things just a bit too closely for this fan’s comfort.
So it all boils down to this: After 12 years of watching his races, cheering his victories, sharing his heartbreaks, and forming lasting friendships with so many of his fans, the time has now come to accept his decision to step out of the spotlight, though I and his fan following may never know (nor, in all reality, do we really “need” to know) the true reason behind his sudden departure. Whatever that reason may be, a true fan will dry the tears, remember the good times, and wish him well in his future endeavors.
So be it. Carl Michael Edwards II, as you move into your next chapter and the sport continues moving forward, I wish you well. Thanks for the memories.
Boy, what a ride it was!
—–Lisa Ballantyne, “Totally Nascar Talk”
All views herein are my own. Readers’ comments are always welcome.