In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Lamb

He calmly entered the sport 27 years ago in Rockingham, North Carolina, and now he's ready to calmly leave the sport in much the manner he entered it. Bill Elliott didn't come into NASCAR Winston Cup Racing with the hype of today's younger stars, or even the flair or immediate impact of a Dale Earnhardt or Darrell Waltrip.

Elliott came into racing with a family operated team because racing is what they knew, and what they did best. Nobody knew who he was, and nobody expected much from him. He just sort of quietly became a superstar in the sport, almost doing it by surprise. Now that his career is winding down Elliott wishes to leave in much the same fashion, without expectations, without fan fare, and under the radar.

Elliott doesn't want to end his career as merely an also ran. He's expressed that there are days that it just isn't as much fun, particularly his days as an owner driver. He doesn't want to spend the last season of his career using a champions provisional every other race, and he doesn't want a top 20 finish somewhere to be the highlight of his final season. While it may be too late to go out on top such as a Michael Jordan, he can still make an exit while being competitive. Joe Montana left the NFL the year after leading Kansas City to the playoffs, Wayne Gretzky left the NHL while still an upper echelon player. While neither was tops in their sport upon their retirement, neither had faded into obscurity. That is precisely the situation Elliott is in, making retirement seem very appealing.

Elliott has never been one for the spotlight or the media. While others seem to enjoy the limelight and do whatever it takes to have their names in headlines week in and week out, Elliott would prefer to simply run in the top 5 and be the guy the announcers "haven't really mentioned today". So it's obvious Elliott doesn't particularly want the Fan Appreciation or Farewell tours granted to the likes of Petty, Gant and Waltrip. He would much prefer to say at the end of the Homestead race this year that "you know what guys, that was it, I'm done".

However, for the legions of fans he has across the country, I think he owes it to them to give them a chance to say goodbye. Dale Earnhardt, arguably the only driver who could compete with Elliott in terms of popularity never had the opportunity to give fans a chance to say goodbye. The fans in Bristol didn't know that the 2000 night race there would be the last time they would get to see Earnhardt on their race track. Just as if Elliott walks away at the end of this year the fans at Darlington, or even Michigan where he is treated almost as a hometown driver won't be able to say goodbye, as they didn't know that his last trip there would literally be his last. With all that is wrong with athletes today in big time sports, Elliott was everything that was right. He went out and did his job, never took all the credit for himself when things went well, never placed all the blame elsewhere when they didn't. He respected his competitors, and made sure to make time for his fans. Hopefully he will make the time for the fans to say thank you.

Ben Gunby (scjacket611)


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