As a boy born and raised in the South, I grew up to the sights and sounds of NASCAR. Every year, the middle of February would bring joy to my heart with the beginning of the season.

However, this season seems to be different. Could it be that I’m no longer in the South and no one cares about racing here in Rochester? No. Maybe it is because there are many new faces in NASCAR this season. It’s not that either. Or maybe it is because it feels as if it were a continuation of last season.

Yes, that’s it.

Last year, in a crash that was heard all around the racing world, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. died on the final lap of the Daytona 500, a track that he had just won for the first time in 2000.

Fans had the entire season to mourn the loss of Earnhardt, but he was still always there. In the final standings of the NASCAR Winston Cup season, Earnhardt was 57th.

This season doesn’t appear to be any different. At the Daytona International Speedway, the unveiling of a memorial statue of Dale Earnhardt received more attention than that of a rookie driver, Jimmie Johnson, winning the pole for the start of the Daytona 500.

The time has come for fans to stop thinking about the past of racing and look toward the future. We have been able to mourn the loss of a legend for over a year now. Let’s move on.

Fresh, new talent has begun to shine through over the past years ? talent that will eventually erase “Big E’s” records.

The most prominent at this time is that of four-time and reigning Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon. For the past few years, Gordon has been Earnhardt’s rival, seen as the boy-next-door type as compared to Earnhardt’s rough and rugged appearance. Gordon is now halfway to the illusive record of eight Winston Cup championships. Earnhardt and Richard Petty currently hold the record at seven a piece.

But there is other talent as well. Apparently the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the case of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. “Little E” won the Busch Series, a step down from the Winston Cup series, in his rookie year, competing against many of the drivers that are now beginning to enter Winston Cup.

But the person to look out for most in the future is Kevin Harvick, the successor of Dale Earnhardt. Harvick took over Earnhardt’s ride after the crash in Daytona and never looked back. Harvick also accomplished the amazing feat of competing in both the Winston Cup series and the Busch series in 2001, winning the Busch series championship and finishing ninth in the Winston Cup.

No longer should we grasp at the past for comfort and security. Instead, we should embrace the future of NASCAR and these remarkable talents. Legends never die in our minds and neither should Earnhardt, but we should not run his legacy into the ground. Rather, we should let his memory rest in peace.

This season should be great for fans and non-fans alike. The races will be battled over and the championship fight will be fierce.

Hopefully on Sunday, at the beginning of the Daytona 500, the new season will start off right with the four fastest words in racing ? “Gentlemen, start your engines” ? being announced and the mourning of Earnhardt left behind us.

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