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Fans take in Daytona 500

February 21, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

WASHINGTON COUNTY

shappell@herald-mail

Though interests were divided on many fronts, racing fans watching the Daytona 500 Sunday in most cases had two questions on their minds: When would the big crash be and where would Dale Earnhardt Jr. finish?

And though affectionately known by race fans as "The granddaddy of them all" or "The great American race," fans watching at two Washington County venues said this year's race wasn't such a winner.

Terry Reed of Hagerstown was among many cheering their favorite drivers at the Big Bats Cafe on Wesel Boulevard. Reed, a NASCAR fan for about 17 years, said he was hoping to see upstarts like Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle compete for the checkered flag in the season's opening race.

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"It's time for someone that earns it, not one that has had it handed to them like (Jeff) Gordon or (Dale) Earnhardt Jr.," Reed said.

Reed was not the only anti-Earnhardt fan at Big Bats. The largest ovation there was when Earnhardt's teammate, Michael Waltrip, exited because of engine troubles.

"Anytime Earnhardt Jr.'s team wrecks, it's a good thing," said Steve McCracken, a Waynesboro, Pa., resident. "He's never done anything."

However, it was a different story at the Shamrock Inn on National Pike. Both the owners and most of the fans were rooting heavily for "Junior."

"We're whole-hearted racing fans, and Earnhardt fans here," said Maureen Taylor, co-owner of the Shamrock Inn.

The Taylor family was among the loudest when Earnhardt passed Tony Stewart for the race lead with less than five laps to go. They were also among the most distraught when he gave up the lead to the eventual winner, Gordon, and finished third.

Still the majority of fans at both businesses agreed that the race was lackluster for the most part, partially because there were none of Daytona's signature, spectacular crashes until near the end of the race.

"It's been below average this year," said Tim Culp, a Hagerstown resident watching at Big Bats. "There hasn't really been that big accident."

Halfway resident Bill Varner was one of the few fans that said, because of the way Dale Earnhardt died in a Daytona crash, he doesn't get excited for wrecks. Varner said he wanted to focus on the fun of the Daytona 500 and even made a friendly wager with a Shamrock bartender, Christine Hoffman, of Clear Spring.

"We bet if Junior won, I'd get a free beer, and if Gordon won, she can dump a bucket of ice on me. I got the bucket of ice," a wet Varner said.

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