This ride's been fun

Like with graduation, divorce, relocation and ultimately, death, we spend much of our lives saying goodbye.

Yet no matter how many times we do, it never seems to get easier to say, let alone try to find the right words each time we're faced with parting ways.

I'm faced with that very dilemma right now. For no matter how much thought I've put into this, no matter how creative I've tried to be, and even though I make my living with them, words are failing me at the present time.

So, perhaps the most simple way is the best way: This is my final column and story for ESPN.com. After 3½ years, I'm moving on to a new challenge with a different company.

On the plus side, I'll still be covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports full-time, as well as making occasional forays into other sports as well.

But there's also a negative side: having to leave so many thousands of regular readers. While you'll certainly be able to find me in my new position quite easily, there was a certain bond that developed over the past 42 months, and I will forever be grateful for that.

Sure, we didn't always agree on every subject -- a look back at some of the more vociferous e-mails I've received over the years is proof. But at the same time, we respected each other for our respective opinions. We may not have agreed with each other's point of view, but at least we were willing to consider what the other had to say. That is true freedom of speech.

I'll also miss all the folks at ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Radio. I've been treated with nothing but the greatest respect and cooperation, and for that I am extremely grateful. It may sound like a cliché, but deciding to leave ESPN is in no way personal, but merely a business decision.

I take pride not only in my association with ESPN, but in the relationships I built and friends I made. Even though I'll be "moving across the street," as they say in the news business, and will now become more known back in ESPN's Bristol, Conn., home base as "the competition," I look forward to maintaining those same friendships for many years to come.

More than anything, in the hundreds of stories I've written for ESPN.com, I strove to accomplish two things: write honestly, and respectfully criticize only when criticism was warranted. Judging from the feedback from readers, I feel quite confident I achieved that goal.

It's the same way that I've lived my life for 46 years, with honesty and respect. Too many people in this business get swollen heads and think they're more important than they really are. They think the sport and the world revolves around them, when it's actually the other way around.

As for me, all I want to be known and remembered as is a guy who spoke his mind, spoke the truth and then backed his statements up with facts. To me, credibility always has been just as important as turning a clever phrase or breaking a meaty story.

Please don't hesitate to e-mail me and keep in touch. I have made many good acquaintances from the Web and I look forward to hearing from many of you as I move on to my new venture.

Once again, thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts, observations, comments and criticisms with you. Also, thank you, young and old for respecting my objectivity and opinion and my dedication to professionalism. As they also say in this business, it's been a great ride, but to quote from one of my favorite songs by REO Speedwagon, "It's time for me to fly."

Jerry Bonkowski covered NASCAR for ESPN.com for the past 3 ½ years. He can be reached at Motorsportwriter@Yahoo.com.