Monday, February 18, 2008


I would have let this go today, but friend Jay, over at The Extended Table, made it nigh impossible. I was going to send him a little comment about why or why not some of us are race fans, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wouldn't be so little, so what the hell . . . .

I grew up in race country. On Saturday nights, I could hear the engines revving from not one, but two different directions: from the west would carry the sounds of Mooresville Drag Strip; from the south, the sounds of either the Concord Motor Speedway or the Charlotte (now Lowe's) Motor Speedway. If we didn't make it to another race all year, we drove the short 20 minutes down the road every year to The World 600 (now the Coca Cola 600).

I won ten bucks in 1975, the first time Richard Petty, already the winningest driver in NASCAR, ever one a race a Charlotte. Having taken the top ten starters' names and dropped them in a hat, we drew them out for a buck a name. I drew Petty and figured I could kiss my buck goodbye, but my Dad, more savvy to the law of averages, told me before the race even started, "Son, he's won more races than any other man alive and he's never won at Charlotte. I'd say he's due. Don't count your dollar lost yet." If memory serves, he finished about a lap and a half ahead of David Pearson's Ford.

Winning the ten bucks wasn't the best part though. The best part was cousin Marty, a Ford service manager at the time, and so a Pearson fan, through and through. Every time Petty would come by our spot in the second turn, Marty would stand and shout "Blow, Petty, Blow!" hoping for a blown engine. Once, as he said it, he slammed his beer can right through the top of his styrofoam cooler, resulting in an innovation later stolen by Coleman in the form of plastic coolers with small built in openings through which you can retrieve a beer without opening the whole lid. But that wasn't the best part. The best part was that I was listening to the race on my transistor radio and had information about parts of the track we couldn't see. So when I told Marty with feigned disappointment, "Petty's into the wall on the backstretch," he bought it. Hook, line, and sinker. He was still dancing on the bench and broadcasting the news to everyone around us when Petty came cruising by a half minute later, smooth as silk, and still a lap ahead of the competition. It's the only time I think I can remember my cousin calling me a son of a bitch. :-D

Dale Earnhardt's original garage was less than a mile from my boyhood home. For years I resented "The Intimidator" for no better reason than that he got more famous faster than I did. I got over it though. His statue stands in the center of town now. Frankly, I think I prefer still drawing breath to that sort of fame. May Dale rest in peace.

With geography like that though, it would be far more of a wonder if I weren't a race fan than that I am.