Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Vote for 2009 Champion

Yep, I'm talking about my boy Dale Earnhardt Jr.  I think he can do it all in 2009.  Think I 'm kidding?  I kid you not.

Dale Jr. has been trying for this chapter in his career all his racing life, and this year, his second with one of the best teams in existence, Hendrick Motorsports, might be his best chance.  Dale Jr. and Tony Eury Jr., cousin and crew chief either have it figured out or they don't.  I'm betting that they do.  I'm guessing that Dale Jr. does what his fans want him to do this season:  Win.  And win big.

Hendrick Motorsports has given Dale and Tony a plan for how to win in 2009.  Between these guys, they can figure out the details.  They've both been racers for too long not to figure it all out by now.  I say, look out for Dale Jr. in 2009.

He's going to win races.  Eventually, he'll win championships.  He's too good to lose.  He's going to do great things in 2009.

I believe it.  I suggest you do too.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Paris? Berlin?

I'm getting some strange hits on the blog lately.  Paris, France?  Berlin, Germany?  That's strange.  I appreciate them all, but where are these hits coming from?  I want more hits from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Virginia, and places like that.  That's the roots of NASCAR.

It's a good time to get prepared for a world of changes in NASCAR for 2009.  Bobby Labonte will be in the 96 Ford, not the 43 Dodge.  A lot of other drivers will be in different cars.  Try to spot Scott Riggs, or try to identify the UPS car this year, if you haven't been in the loop.  (Hint: The UPS car will be a Ford this year)

A new feature on the blog is the ability to follow this blog.  You can be the first, or the second to try it out.  I don't know exactly what it does, but you can do it.  I followed another blog member's blog, just to see if I could.  It's Dan Scott's blog, and Dan is a talk show host at 104.9 FM in Clemson, SC.  Dan has been battling with losing weight, and I wish him all the best.  My best answer for losing weight is stress.  Stress about losing your home, or not having enough money to pay your doctor's bills or feed your cats.  That's stress.  Do it, and I can pretty much guarantee you will lose weight.  I've personally gone from about 205 to 170.  Stress.  It works.

I live in the middle of NASCAR's traditional territory, but no one around here talks about NASCAR on the radio.  Is that a niche that needs to be filled?  If so, I could probably do it.  Besides my wonderful writing skills, I also have a pretty good radio voice.  I've been an amateur radio operator since 1994.  I could do a one to three hour show on weekends, talking about NASCAR in all it's glory.  I'm here for you, guys!  Let me know.

It's Daytona speed weeks time, and I'm jazzed as I can be.  Let's get this show on the road, boys and girls!  Let's get it on!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Getting Ready for the Big Show

As I write this, February is only a matter of days away, and the arrival of February can only mean one thing:  It's time to head to Daytona for Speed Weeks and eventually the grandest spectacle in NASCAR, which of course is the Daytona 500.

At the latest count, there are 54 cars vying for the 43 available starting positions in the 500.  Bad economy?  What bad economy?  Though the Daytona 500 is indeed the biggest race of the year, and subsequently has the biggest purse of all the races, the fact that 54 teams are attempting to make the field in 2009 shows that some small teams are taking advantage of recent team shut downs and mergers to toss their collective hats into the Daytona ring.

It's been announced that Kirk Shelmerdine, who began his NASCAR career as a crew chief, will attempt not just the Daytona 500, but all 36 races in 2009.  Shelmerdine will drive the 27 Ford as an owner/driver in attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500.  Who says the days of owner/drivers are over?  Just look at Robby Gordon.  

Another owner/driver is a man we have not heard much about lately.  Jeremy Mayfield will reportedly attempt to qualify an as yet unnumbered Toyota in February.  Derricke Cope and Joe Nemechek will also attempt to qualify in cars they own.

Another surprise, at least for me, was seeing car owner John Carter on the early entry list.  By all accounts, Carter, a northeast Georgia businessman, had ceased operations late last year. Apparently, however, the 08 Dodge lives, and making yet another attempt to qualify the car will be none other than James Hylton, who ran his first race in 1964, the year after this writer was born.  James Hylton was 29 years old at the time.  I'll let you do the math, but don't count Hylton out.  He's nearly qualified at Daytona in just the last few years.

In other news that I personally consider to be surprising, JR Motorsports Nationwide series driver Brad Keselowski will attempt to race in his first Daytona 500, piloting the 09 Chevy with Miccosukee Resorts and Gaming as a sponsor.  The car is owned by James Finch, and while Brad is in the car, Hendrick equipment will be used.  It's reported that Keselowski will attempt several Cup races in the car this year, and when Brad isn't in the car, the team will switch to Dodge and other drivers.  This is not unheard of in NASCAR, but it's a phenomena we have not seen since the 1980's.  I personally want to wish that team well, and I feel that Brad Keselowski has a bright future ahead of him as a Sprint Cup driver.

There will once again be two Labontes attempting the starting grid in 2009.  Bobby Labonte, in his new ride in the number 96  Ford, has owners points as the new driver for the Hall Of Fame Racing team.  In a rather unprecedented move, HOF switched from Toyota to Ford, and has aligned itself with Yates Racing, which means that the 96 car will have some of that famous Yates/Roush horsepower under the hood in 2009.  Brother Terry will attempt to make the field in the MSRP Motorsports owned Toyota.  Remember, Terry Labonte does have the 2nd most recent champion's provisional, so he has an excellent shot at making the field.  It will be nice to see both Labontes on the track again.

One other owner/driver who will be attempting to put his car in the field is Norm Benning, who we last saw in a Cup race in 1993.  Kelly Bires will attempt the race, as will Mike Wallace, Mike Skinner, Carl Long, and the most famous head of hair in all of NASCAR, Boris Said.

One other driver I'm happy to see at Daytona in 2009 is almost winner, and 2008 Rookie of the Year Regan Smith, who will be qualifying the number 78 Furniture Row Chevy.  Regan's ride basically dissolved after the 2008 season at Dale Earnhardt Inc., which is now Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.  One of my greatest fears going into the 2009 season was that last year's ROTY would not even have a ride in 2009.  Smith has some good skills as a driver, and I wish him well.

It's time to buy your favorite driver's new hat and tee shirt, a truck load of your favorite beverages and snacks, and as Larry MacReynolds says, pull on those belts one more time and get ready for NASCAR, 2009.  It's just around the corner, and it's time to get it on!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

They All Died Too Young

Since this is mostly a NASCAR based blog, I can't help but lead off with a few NASCAR drivers that died far ahead of their time.  Of course there's Dale Earnhardt, but I get tears in my eyes when I think about Davey and Clifford Allison and what their lost lives mean to the NASCAR world.

Had Davey and Clifford lived, there is no telling what the sport would be like today.  I doubt that anyone who was a fan of the sport in the early 1990's doubts that Davey Allison would have eventually won championships.  We'll never know about Clifford, who lost his life only a few months before we lost Davey.  

In the year 2000, Nascar took a very tragic double hit when Kenny Irwin Jr.  and Adam Petty lost their lives.  Irwin was a hot young driver in the Cup series at the time of his death, and Adam was just getting started.  Adam was the 4th generation from Petty Enterprises to get into racing, and his death effectively snuffed out the hopes of the Petty name continuing to be what it once was in racing.  We of course will never know what Adam Petty might have meant to racing.  He died at such a young age that his true potential was never realized.  

NASCAR stars obviously aren't they only people who sometimes die at an early age.  Ronnie Van Zant, front man for the band Lynyrd Skynyrd died in a plane crash while still in his 20's.  Perhaps Ronnie's most famous performance was the live rendition of the song "Free Bird", which was performed at the Fox Theater in Atlanta.  The song was basically a tribute to Duane Allman, who in my opinion might have been the greatest guitarest of all time.  Duane died in motorcycle accident in Macon, Ga, back in the early 1970's.  Just a few years later, Van Zant died in Mississippi.  They both died way too young.  But then, so did Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison.  So did Stevie Ray Vaughan.

What would the music world be like had Jimi Hendrix lived?  What would the NASCAR world be like if Dale Earnhardt was still with us?  Neither are questions we can answer for sure, but I'm guessing either way, it would be a better world.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Will NASCAR ever be as Fun Again?

Since I've never been a prognosticator, I'm not really going to attempt to answer my own question, and I'll leave that up to you to do.  NASCAR has such a rich history of personalities, that today's almost seemingly homogenized race car driver seems almost boring to me.  There are a few exceptions, of course, but when one watches a typical interview with the average driver, one can fall asleep.  We know there will be the gratuitous sponsor mentions, as well as thanking the team and owner, and perhaps the car manufacturer.  How often, though, does a driver really say what's on his mind?

In my perhaps not so humble opinion, NASCAR needs more 'characters' than it currently has.  When I use the term 'character', I'm really talking about a guy who's willing to speak his mind, and maybe stir up trouble a little.  Love him or hate him, Darrell Waltrip was probably the all time master at being a 'character'.  Even when he was a young driver, Darrell was always good for an interview before or after a race.  Darrell would say something that either made the audience laugh out loud or make their blood boil.  Fortunately for us, DW has not lost that ability.  Even in the booth for FOX he provokes us in similar ways, just like he used to do as a driver.  Darrell Waltrip, thank God people like you are still around.

Kyle Busch is much the 21st century version of DW.  Kyle makes people mad practically every time he opens his mouth, which is actually a good thing for the sport.  People love to hate Kyle Busch, and I have to salute him for keeping it real and keeping the sport interesting.  I'm obviously not a Kyle Busch fan, but I salute him for having the guts to wear the black hat for NASCAR.

If you want to see frankness from a driver, you can still look to interviews with Kevin Harvick.  Like Dale Earnhardt, the driver he replaced at Richard Childress Racing, you can still count on Kevin to give it to you straight.  When Kevin's had a bad day, he won't sugar coat things for you.  If he's annoyed with another driver, he'll tell you about it.  That's what NASCAR needs right now; the truth, and straight from the mouth of a p.o'ed driver.

I hope that NASCAR does not become so generic that we can't tell the drivers apart anymore.  NASCAR is unique in that there are relatively few players on any given Sunday, and we get to know them all, by how the drive and the personality, or lack thereof, they exude in front of the TV cameras.  I would give anything for a return of Bobby Allison, Junior Johnson, Neil Bonnett, Tim Richmond, and others that used to give the sport so much of the special flavor that we as fans loved.  Personally, I think that NASCAR will be just fine as long as we have drivers like the Busches, the Earnhardts, the Harvicks, and even the Johnsons and Gordons.  

I'd just like to see more personalities on display though.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's the off season? The News in NASCAR keeps Flooding In!

How about Steve Park, or you may be asking who the heck is Steve Park?  He used to be a teammate of Dale Earnhardt Jr, but he was involved in a series of devastating accidents back in the 1990's and on into the 21st century.  Steve currently drives in the NASCAR East series, and is gearing up for another season in that series.  Steve drives for the NDS team and is sponsored by Waste Management Recycle America.  For those of you who don't remember, Steve Park used to drive the 1 Chevrolet for DEI and won a very emotional victory for DEI at Rockingham, the very first race after Dale Earnhardt passed away at Daytona in February 2001.  Jimmy C and the gang here wish Steve Park well in all his future endeavors.

Rookie of the Year for 2008 in the Sprint Cup series Regan Smith has found another ride and will be driving the 78 car for Furniture Row Racing.  (Regan, I still think you beat Tony Stewart in that race last year.)  In 2008, Regan, who hails from Cato, New York, finished every single race in which he competed, which is a great statistic for a rookie.  The staff here at Jimmy C.'s NASCAR World wish Regan Smith well, because we predict that this young man is going places in racing, and will probably finish up front in a lot of events he enters.

In other news, I find it increasingly interesting just where this sport came from and where it is now.  In 2009, there will probably be only a handful of drivers in the Sprint Cup series from the south.  Our past champion from the last 3 years is Jimmie Johnson, which sounds like a southern name but isn't, unless you count southern California as a place in the south.  Johnson actually calls California home, as does his boss and teammate Jeff Gordon.  Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears also were born and raised in California.  How many drivers will be in the Sprint Cup in 2009 from the south?  

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is from North Carolina.  Mark Martin is from Arkansas, so that sort of counts.  Brian Vickers is from North Carolina as well.  Bill Elliot of course is from Georgia.  Reed Sorenson is from Georgia as well.  Most of the rest of the drivers from the NASCAR Sprint Cup series are from places like Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Washington, and even Tasmania and Colombia!  I for one am very happy to welcome rookie Marcos Ambrose to the series in 2009.  The good natured Marcos is always good for a smile and a wink in his interviews, and I believe that bringing some good Australian sense into the sport will be good for everyone involved.

In some ways, this departure from the south is not always a good thing.  Drivers who have never breathed in red clay dust probably don't have as deep an understanding for this sport as did some of their elders.  Not that breathing in clay dust is a healthy occupation at all, but back in the day, especially before 1972, NASCAR drivers regularly drove on dirt.  Such is not the case now.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never driven on dirt except in his back yard.  I don't know that it's such a good thing for drivers not to have that particular skill.  For one thing, you master the art of car control driving on dirt.  Your car might be completely sidways coming out of a turn, but you are in control.  I learned some dirt driving skills back in the late 1970's and into the early 1980's on dirt roads in northern SC.  Please don't tell my parents!  The ability to hang the tail of the car out and still maintain control is what I still consider to be a vital driving skill.

Late in the 1970's, I drove an empty Ford pickup truck down steep and winding roads at full speeds, and I recommend you don't try this at home.  In other words, the back of the truck was unloaded, which meant I was driving with a severe loose condition, but the ability to hang the tail out while driving on dirt saved me from some embarrassing consequences.  I don't know what the statute of limitations is or was on that particular crime, but I got away with it.  I've never repeated that particular crime though, or any others.  It didn't involve sex or murder, but it might have involved controlled substances.  Like I said, don't try this at home.

For whatever it's worth, I got away.  I'm not saying I was right doing what I did, but I didn't go to jail, which was probably a good thing, especially at the time.  It was the ability to drive fast on dirt that got me out of what could have been a real predicament.  I'm not proud of it, but it did happen.

These days, I rarely drive over the speed limit.  I just don't take risks anymore that involve my livliehood.  It just doesn't make sense.  Mostly I write and read a lot, and try not to make mistakes like I made in my more youthful days.  Making a living in illegal ways is not for me.  At least not anymore.  But learning how to drive fast on dirt was a definite benefit.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bobby Labonte to Drive the 96 Ford in 2009

So reports our most reliable source,  The 96 is the number "owned" by the Hall Of Fame racing team, formerly owned by two Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks, who are no longer associated with the team.  HOF Racing has aligned itself with Yates Racing for 2009, which means they will have access to Ford engines supplied by Yates and Roush for 2009.  The team will reportedly be run out of Yates Racing shops in Concord, NC.

Labonte's sponsors will likely be Texas Instruments DLP products, as well as  Bobby Labonte also is a past champion, so he will have up to 5 provisional starts in 2009, in order to get the 96 car into the top 35 in points by race 5.  Labonte finished 21st in points in the Petty-Boston Ventures 43 in 2008, so getting the car into the points probably won't be much of a problem, especially for a guy who really wants to drive competitively in 2009.

Remember, Labonte has won 21 races and the championship in 2000.  He won all those races and the championship with Joe Gibbs Racing, but a relatively young driver can do great things.  I say relatively, since Bobby Labonte is younger than I am, which means he's younger than dirt, but old enough to know how to drive.  In my opinion, if Bobby Labonte can put the 96 Ford inside the top 15 in 2009, he will have done his job, and done it well.

In other news, Robby Loomis, former crew chief for Jeff Gordon, has been named executive director for raciing for the new GEM-Petty team.  Loomis will oversee the operations of the 9 car of Kasey Kahne, the 10 car of AJ Allmendinger, the 19 car of Elliot Sadler, and the 43 car of Reed Sorenson.

The 2009 racing season is about to start, with the Bud Shootout in a matter of weeks.  It's good to see Bobby Labonte secure a ride for 2009, and I wish him the very best of luck.  Even if the 43 ride that Bobby's had for several years wasn't the most successful, he can tell his grandchildren that he did indeed drive the car.  That's more than about 99.99 per cent of the population can say.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Time is Right for some Small Teams

Though the country faces economic woes, and our about to be president and vice president keep sounding the doom and gloom alarms, some true adventurers are about to embark on the road to riches in NASCAR. To me, it makes perfect sense, because the chance for small teams to make the field for the big show, or better known as the Sprint Cup is better than it's been in years.

You may ask "Why is this?" OK, I, as the little knowing, little seeing Jimmy C. will tell you why. With waning sponsorship, and cash on hand in general, the major teams who have dominated NASCAR for years have been culled. Sure, teams like Roush-Fenway, Hendrick, and Gibbs are doing just fine, but some of the smaller teams are only running limited schedules, or have folded up entirely. For instance, the famed Wood Brothers are only running selected races this year with 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Bill Elliot at the wheel of their number 21 Ford. Though the winningest number in NASCAR history, the 43, will likely run all the races, it will be mostly owned by a guy named George Gillett, who might be a genius at running a hockey team such as his Montreal Canadiens, or the football team (read 'soccer' in America) the Liverpool Football Club, he has shown little in the way of putting people in position to win races in NASCAR. We've already seen the fiasco that was the Elliot Sadler and AJ Allendinger soap opera played out on

The 2000 Cup champion, Bobby Labonte is still looking for a job, but is rumored to be close to signing on with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing as either the driver of the 41 or, hold on for a second, the 8! Better get out my '8' gear and dust it off again. 2009 indeed shows just how fickle this sport can be, when a past champion and a very recent rookie of the year, Regan Smith, are both looking for jobs. Such is NASCAR in the year 2009.

In any other year, a past Cup champion and winner of 21 Cup races such as Bobby Labonte would not have a problem finding a ride in the Cup series. Neither would 2008's ROTY Regan Smith. But times have changed, and Teresa Earnhardt has been the owner and chief executive of what used to be Dale Earnhardt Inc. for years. I understand that the DEI name will be kept for other reasons besides stock car racing, but basically, DEI is now EGR, or Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. Though Teresa Earnhardt certainly did not bring about the hard times which NASCAR is currently experiencing, what was DEI has certainly shown us just how fast what once was a good race team can fall into nearly obscure depths. If nothing else, the demise of DEI as a racing team shows us just how much weight Dale Earnhardt Jr. carried on his shoulders when he was there. In 2007, Dale Jr. left DEI. In 2009, DEI basically is no more.

But what's bad news for many can be good news for a few. It's been announced that a few smaller teams are getting ready to spread their wings and attempt to fly, at least around the track at Daytona next month. R3 Motorsports, owned by Robert Richardson Sr. is planning on putting a car in the field for NASCAR's greatest race. Tommy Baldwin, a former crew chief, and Daytona 500 winning crew chief has announced that he will be fielding cars under the banner of Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2009.

Other small teams will be attempting to make the field at Daytona and other tracks as well, because the failure of a few old teams leaves room for some new teams to try their hand at racing. As happens in life, racing teams turn full circle eventually. (No pun intended here) Petty, for the most part is gone. Though Richard will be present in the racing community, he will in fact only be a minority owner of the number and car that made him famous. The number 8, which was so hotly contested just a year and a half ago, will apparently be up for grabs by the driver who can bring a sponsor with him, and little else matters.

Speaking of sponsorship, the time is right for some of the companies all over the land, and indeed all over the world to investigate the world of NASCAR. Think about it: Your name plastered on a rolling bill board 38 weeks out of the year, in America's second most watched sport! What a deal! In the NFL, most sponsors only option is to buy the naming rights to an arena. In NASCAR, you can have your name on proud display for much less money. Let's face it: Even if Plaxico Burris plays football again, you're not likely to see "The Rubber Bullet" company logo plastered all over the back of his jersey. You're equally not likely to see the "Humane Society" logo on Michael Vick's jersey anytime soon either. NASCAR: It's more bang for your advertising buck!

Here's to the new year. I wish success to all the teams competing to race in NASCAR in 2009!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Remembering the Roots of NASCAR

So, you might be wondering who the old codger standing with Dale Earnhardt in the picture above might be. At the time this picture was taken, the gentleman on the left was somewhere around 90 years old and still working in his office every day. His name is Raymond Parks, and though you've probably never heard of him, the man standing on the right, the Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, probably owed his career to the man he's standing with. Virtually every driver, crew chief, owner, crew member, and anyone else associated with NASCAR owes their livelihood to the old man, Raymond Parks.

Though he left the sport for good in around 1955, Raymond Parks sparked what was first known simply as stock car racing into what later became NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing. Parks ran away from home, an impoverished farm near Dawsonville, GA when he was only a teenager, seeking to find a better life. Young Raymond became a whiskey maker, and later, more importantly to this article, a whiskey runner. From a runaway beginning during tough times in the early 1930's, Parks quickly became an entrepreneur in Atlanta during the mid 1930's, and eventually a very rich man. He made moonshine, and he delivered it. In other words, he learned out to drive. What made this endeavor especially interesting was that this pursuit of success took place during America's period of prohibition. In other words, alcohol was against the law, and Raymond Parks operated on the other side of the law.

Raymond Parks eventually found the new found fad of stock car racing, basically begun by his friends and foes alike in the moonshine industry. These moonshine runners quickly learned how to build better and faster cars in a necessary attempt to outrun or at least outwit the law officers who were constantly in pursuit of this band of outlaws. Just to blow off steam, some of these outlaws gathered in cow pastures all over the south land to see just who was the best driver. Then, as is the case now, bragging rights were an important part of a driver's psyche. No driver who likes to drive fast likes to get beat. Some things never change.

Raymond Parks, through his various moonshine running endeavors, and an illegal lottery, or numbers racket as it would be called today, became a rich man in Atlanta in the 1930's. Parks began branching out into other more 'legitimate' industries. His profits continued to grow. One of Raymond Parks' interests turned to stock car racing, since he, with the benefit of a mechanic named Red Vogt, had built some of the best moonshining cars around the north Georgia area.

To the south of Georgia, at Daytona Beach, Florida, a man named Bill France began to organize and promote races at a track that was half on the beach sand at Daytona, and half on the main road through the area, the paved A1A. The races promised a good payout, and Raymond Parks had some cars built, and put some of his own drivers in the cars. The drivers were his cousins Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall, who had run 'shine for Parks in the past, and were known as some of the best runners in the Atlanta area. Pictured below is Lloyd Seay, Raymond Parks, and Roy Hall, from left to right. In a lot of ways, this group of cousins became the first super team in stock car racing. They won races at the new Daytona track and many more tracks, including the famed Lakewood track in Atlanta.

When Raymond Parks started his team, he put his drivers in the best cars he could afford, with tricked out engines, courtesy of Red Vogt, and proceeded to win races. Parks himself was not unknown to drive some of the race cars himself, since he has once been one of the best drivers to take a load of illegal alcohol down highway 9 from Dawsonville to Atlanta. Parks eventually went to prison in Ohio for 9 months, his background having caught up with him finally. Roy Hall was to spend more time in prison, his indiscretions creating much more flak for him than had his cousin and car owner. Lloyd Seay was killed by a relative over a debt, and brutally, the super team was dissolved. After Parks came back from prison, he continued to build his business until World War II happened. Still a young man, Parks was drafted into the US Army.

Raymond Parks served in the infantry in Europe, and fought bravely during the legendary Battle of the Bulge in 1944, which was Germany's final attempt at pushing the Allies into the sea, as they had done 4 year before at Dunkirk. The Allies prevailed, and eventually Parks rotated back to his hometown in late 1945. Raymond Parks was no fool. His sister had basically run his business while he had been away at war.

Quickly, Parks returned to his ventures, one of which was racing. With his two drivers out of hand, he turned to another World War II veteran, Red Byron.

Red Byron had raced mostly in Alabama and sometimes in Georgia prior to the war. He joined the Army and tried to qualify as pilot, back in the day when the Army and Air Force were one. He was turned down due to vision requirements, but became a gunner and engineer with the Army Air Force. He was sent to Alaska to help fend of the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. In an incident in which he was a crew member on a B-24 bomber, Red Byron took major wounds in his left leg, among other wounds. Japanese flak had possibly ended Byron's career as a racer.

Back at the base in Alaska, Byron was sent back to Seattle, and there, the Army doctors wanted to amputate his left leg. Byron refused, and eventually was sent back to a hospital near the home of his family in Colorado. Though Red Byron was told repeatly that his left leg would kill him if it were not amputated, Byron rehabilitated himself at his family home and headed back to Alabama, and eventually Atlanta. Byron wanted to race. Eventually Robert "Red" Byron hooked up with Raymond Parks. Though his left leg was not functioning properly, Red Byron persisted on becoming a racer. Mechanic Red Vogt invented a series of pins that allowed Byron to keep his left foot on the clutch pedal, though Byron himself had to twist his body in an opposite direction to keep from putting too much pressure on the clutch itself. Byron, looking very old beyond his age, appears below.

From a long to a short story, Red Byron became the first true NASCAR champion. He didn't race for many years after that, but he did indeed become the first true champion of what we now know as NASCAR. This WWII vet, disabled as he was, still had the drive and determination to become the best of the best. For a few years, Red Byron, even with his war disable leg, dominated the sport. He became NASCAR's first true champion, and today my hat's off for Red Byron, who died many years ago. Red Byron was a true champion, and we as fans of NASCAR should remember how this sport began and who its first true heroes were. People like Raymond Parks and Red Byron. I invite any of you who would like to read more on the subject to check out at Neal

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Don't Disparage What You Don't Understand

Since about 2001, or even before, there has been an entity known as the Junior Nation, or perhaps now that Big E is gone, simply as the Earnhardt Nation. Either way, this is a group of NASCAR fans who used to wear Budweiser red, and now wear AMP or Mountain Dew green or National Guard blue. For some reason, they have become some of the most hated fans in any sport on planet earth.

Some of that hatred is probably justified. I imagine a few Budweiser cans were tossed over the fence by some Junior fans at places like Talladega in the past. Strangely enough however, the only fan we saw being taken away in handcuffs was wearing a Lowe's vest. How very odd. Odd indeed.

On many message boards, Junior Nation fans are called idiots, rednecks, and sometimes even words that could be called disparaging. Personally, I don't mind being called such names, because in some areas, being called a redneck is actually a term of endearment. I just wish I lived in a place like that.

But getting down the the meat of this post, being a Junior fan does not mean that you have to be either a prepubescent teen age girl or a 40 year old woman who wishes she was still a prepubescent teen age girl. Junior Nation fans cover virtually the entire spectrum of humankind. Junior Nation fans cannot be classified by sex, race, career choice, or even by their intelligence quotient. I've met bank presidents who were Junior fans. I met one that was a Kyle Busch fan too, for some reason.

Why do Dale Jr. fans like Junior? Some of them are female and realize he's still single, even after all these years in the limelight which has become NASCAR racing. Being Mrs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. probably ranks highly on the all time lists of things to do for many women. But that's not all there is to it all. Not at all.

Some of us simply respect the roots of NASCAR and where it all started. In some ways, Junior is a throwback to an older era, where times were much more simpler and easy. Junior would have loved to have raced in his father's day, back in the 1980's and 1990's. For any of you who detect accents, it is obvious that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was born and raised in North Carolina, which for some of us here in South Carolina, still makes him a Yankee.

Dale Jr. is a link to the past with many of us fans who have been around for more than 8 or so years. He probably won't win 200 races or 8 championships, but we love the guy. He's as honest as the day is long, and he tells the truth, always. Is he the best driver out there? Probably not. But we love him for his ability to be candid about all things racing though.

Dale Jr. will probably not be remembered as the best driver ever, but he will be remembered as one of the most popular drivers ever. If you want an honest opinion about a race track or a race car, Dale Jr. is your guy. He will tell you the truth.

Dale Jr. has a lot of respect for the traditions that were started way before he was even alive. I was alive before him, so I know. Dale Jr. has become the most popular NACSCAR driver mostly because of his personality, not just his driving abilities.

Like him or not, Dale Jr. keeps fans watching NASCAR. Thank whatever God you to pray to for that.

Remembering Neil Bonnett

The 1994 season had not yet officially begun, only a hand full test sessions had taken place, when the news came from Daytona that Neil Bonnett had died from injuries sustained in a practice crash for the Daytona 500.

Neil, popular driver and broadcaster, was taking the next step in his comeback effort after three years of recovery from injuries suffered in a 1990 crash at Darlington. Everyone knew how much Neil and Dale Earnhardt loved to hunt and fish, but during a press conference announcing his comeback Neil admitted racing meant much more to him. During Neil's comeback efforts he tested for RCR and was a key part in the development of the new Monte Carlo coming out in 1995. Neil found something during all this testing and he felt he had a great chance at the pole and Daytona 500 in 1994. I guess we will never know what happened to the car that fateful day, but I can tell you that it was not driver error. There are a lot of unanswered questions about the car, but all the answers in the world will not bring Neil back. There are no answers to the question why. The only comforting thought can be that unlike Alan Kulwicki and Davy Allison, Neil lost his life doing what he loved, driving a race car.

Neil's 18 career wins and 20 poles will be remembered. So will his talents behind the microphone and in front of the camera. Most of all Neil will be remembered as a man who gave 100 % to everything. Whether it be his family, hunting, fishing, or his ultimate love, racing. Neil Bonnett was a Racer!

I have so many fond memories of Neil and his family and I wanted to share some of them with you. I started to follow Neil's career when he was racing in the IROC series. Neil was one of a kind and will be missed, but his memories will live forever.

These are quotes from a Neil Bonnett fan, and the site is Here if you'd like to read all the quotes and see all the pictures. Neil was indeed a great race car driver, a great broadcaster, and an all around good guy. I miss him every day.

Thanks to for the information and the pictures.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Here's some Driver Pictures for You!

The man above is indeed the legendary Dick Trickle. He was a hard charger in his day, and though his name has been made fun of by a lot of people, Dick was all business on race day.

This next pic is of Cale Yarborough. Cale was an iron man in his day. He drove hurt or sick, but nothing could keep Cale down.

This next pic shows Richard Petty, a young Kyle Petty, and Bobby Allison. These were all guys to beat back in the day.

Buddy Baker. He was a legend in NASCAR for many years. I miss hearing Buddy call the races.

The Silver Fox, or better known as David Pearson talking to Buddy Baker. David is second on the all time win list, and mostly only ran part time in the Grand National series, or what later was known as the Winston Cup and now the Sprint Cup. Had David run full time, who knows how many races he would have won? At 105 wins only running part time, David might have been one of the greatest drivers ever.

Davey Allison talking with Sterling Marlin. Davey was tragically killed in a helicopter accident at Talladega in 1993.

Once again, the Silver Fox, David Pearson.

The man, Dale Earnhardt. This was taken in the late 1990's.

Lake Speed, one of NASCAR's drivers from the 80's and 90's.

The great AJ Foyt. AJ won at pretty much every series he ever ran, and is still revered as one of the best race drivers ever, regardless of series.

Some Pictures for You

Here's some oldies but goodies.  In the first pic you see the number 3 Piedmont Airlines Chevrolet.  The driver was Richard Childress.

In the next pic you see the 21 Wood Brothers Ford driven by the Silver Fox, David Pearson.

And here we have the old number 3 Wrangler Chevy driven by Dale Earnhardt.

Check out the 28 Hardees car driven by Cale Yarborough.

The 43 STP car in 1992, during Richard Petty's farewell tour.

One more shot of the old Wrangler #3 of Dale Earnhardt.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Predictions for 2009 You Can Take to the Bank!

I rarely make predictions here, because if you ever played on any fantasy sports league with me, well, uh, you would understand.  In my football league, I finished about 10th out of 12 teams total.  I don't think 11 or 12 ever updated their rosters after the first week either, and I did update mine.  Well, most of the time I did.

But anyway, I'm going to make some predictions for the 2009 NASCAR season that you can bet your 401k on, if there's anything left in it.  If you will indulge me, I will do a countdown list here for your reading pleasure.

Prediction number 10:  No matter how the Chase for the Cup turns out in 2009, even if all 12 of the Chase contenders finish within a tenth of a second apart, fans will still complain about it.  Old timers will always see the Chase as young Brian France monkeying with the system, trying to fix something that didn't need to be fixed in the first place.  I consider myself to be among that group.  Not that I'm an old timer, of course.  I was barely out of my diapers when Richard Petty ran his last race.  Some people don't consider 29 to be too old to be potty trained, do they?

Prediction number 9:  Speaking of Brian France, even if the 2009 season provides the best racing in the history of NASCAR, some people will not be happy with the job he's doing.  NASCAR purists will remember that Big Bill France gave us NASCAR.  Little Bill, also known as Bill France Jr. gave us the modern era of NASCAR.  Brian France gave us the Chase, and the Car Of Tomorrow.  NASCAR president Mike Helton gave hope to those of us with mustaches that we can still look cool wearing them in the 21st century.

Prediction number 8:  Someone, oh, I don't know, maybe the driver of the 14 car, will say something bad about Goodyear tires in 2009.  Someone will also be called to the big house for a sit down, come to Jesus meeting, and probably won't say anything at all again for a few weeks about tires.  Goodyear and NASCAR will be burning the midnight oil to ensure that the tires for the Indianapolis race in 2009 will be better than they were for the 2008 race at the Brickyard.  But then again, I think that if they rolled out the tires they used at Watkins Glen in 2008, they would be better than what was used at Indy last year.  If they rolled out the cheapest passenger tire that can purchased at Wal-Mart, it would probably be an improvement.  What I want to know is where can I buy a supply of 2008 Indianapolis tires to put on my truck in order to have a valid excuse for being late to work about 3 times a week in 2009? 

Prediction number 7:  NASCAR's beefed up drug testing policy for 2009 will probably net exactly nothing.  If any of the crews, drivers or anyone else involved in the drug testing program can't quit long enough to pass the newly mandated tests, they're in the wrong business anyway, and probably have already left the sport, at least temporarily after the announcement last month.  The drivers supposedly can be tested at any time, and I seriously doubt that there will be any of them that will try to beat the system in that regard.  Sure, NASCAR has had a couple of drivers over the last few years who did have drug problems, but they're pretty much gone now.  I believe we're fortunate in many ways that NASCAR has evolved as sport that seems to not have major drug problems, as other sports have had, and still continue to have at times.  Most of America is so used to random drug testing now, that we who actually attempt to work for a living try to steer clear of anything that might cost us our jobs.  Heck, I even avoid eating poppy seed rolls, since they have shown up as opiates on some drug tests.  You have probably been drug tested several times if you've changed jobs at all in the last 30 years.  I know I have.  What NASCAR should really do is institute mandatory polygraph testing for their crew chiefs.  "Did you purposely move that shock mounting bracket to cheat?"  "No, sir.  I did not."  BUZZZZZZZZ!  "Wrong answer, dumb butt!  You're outta here!"

Prediction number 6:  Former driver and now FOX TV broadcaster Darrell Waltrip will once again lavish excessive praise upon a rather unpopular driver, and tick off a lot of fans.  Last year, it was Kyle Busch, and Darrell's e-mail inbox is still probably overloaded with upset fans' messages.  Give Darrell some credit though.  He's been in this sport longer than just about anyone else who's still around now, and he likes what he likes.  We need to remember that once upon a time, Darrell wasn't the grand old guy of this sport.  When he showed up around 1972, he peeved a lot of people off, and did so for a large chunk of his career.  Darrell has never been shy in front of a microphone, and in many ways, he's helped bring our sport to the level of popularity that it currently enjoys.  To me, Darrell Waltrip is a genius.  He understood, early on, that NASCAR gains popularity when controversy reigns.  Darrell's just doing what he's always been so good at:  Stirring the pot.  He gets people talking and buzzing about things.  For a sport that's seen a down turn in ticket sales and TV ratings, starting off the 2009 season with ole DW on FOX is just what the sport needs right now.  (DW, please e-mail me.  I'll tell you where to wire the money!)

Prediction number 5:  No matter how well the various networks that broadcast NASCAR in 2009 perform their duties, racing fans will be unhappy.  In 2008, I thought each network had it's strengths and weaknesses.  My personal favorite is FOX.  The guys in the booth just seem to have more fun with their broadcasting duties.  I like fun.  I don't watch racing because I want to get stressed out, even though I often do.  I like fun, and to me, the guys at FOX keep it fun.  I do, however give kudos to the other networks that broadcast NASCAR as well.  Kyle Petty is always a joy to watch and listen to.  Kyle has a no nonsense way of getting his point across and I appreciate that as a fan.  TNT was very smart to hire Kyle Petty to be in the booth.  I will say the same for ESPN and ABC for having the smarts to hire Dale Jarrett.  Dale is obviously a chip off the old block, because his dad, Ned Jarrett has been a long time favorite of mine as well, not just as a broadcaster, but as a driver, and indeed, just a nice guy.  (Dale and Ned, please see my message to DW above!)

Prediction number 4:  The new NASCAR testing ban probably will not cut down on testing very much.  The teams that have the pockets laden with cash to test, will test.  They can't test at a ton of tracks now, but there are always tracks out there not sanctioned by NASCAR.  If I had about 1000 more acres, and access to a bulldozer and and asphalt machine, I'd build a prefect replica of Daytona in my back yard.  (DW, Dale, and Ned:  You might want to keep that in mind while you make your contributions.  Wink, wink.)

Prediction number 3:  The number '3' will not be run in NASCAR in 2009.  Richard Childress, I assume, will keep the rights to use the number this year, and will not use it.  I don't know that I ever want to see it used again, except if Childress' grandson Austin Dillon wants to use it.  I know that Richard would probably give it to any Earnhardt that wants it as well, but right now, I don't see the '3' being used in 2009.  For many of us, I think we're only just beginning to sort out just how much the loss of Dale Earnhardt has meant to the sport.  It's amazing to me, but the fact is that the pain I felt on February 18, 2001 still exists today.  I miss Dale.  I miss him more than I ever believed I could.

Prediction number 2:  Jeff Gordon will win again, and probably in 2009.  That team was so close, so many times, in 2008, that I know Jeff still has more wins left in him.  I don't know about the championship, but he's got more wins left.  I believe that Jeff could possibly become at least the 3rd winningest driver in NASCAR history, after Richard Petty and David Pearson.  I also believe the crew chief Steve Letarte will be in for even more flack from many of Jeff's fans, unless the 24 team wins early and often in 2009.  Love him or hate him, Jeff Gordon is still the real deal.  (Jeff, please see prediction number 4, and I'll add you to the list!)

Prediction number 1:  This one is easy.  If Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins 20 races in 2009, and wins the Cup by 1000 points, there will still be fans calling for the head of crew chief Tony Eury Jr. delivered on a silver platter.  The hatred of Tony Jr. is phenomenal, to say the least.  Cousins for life, Tony's often blamed for the lackluster performance of the 88 team in 2008.  At the beginning of the season in 2008, they set some goals for themselves.  Win a race.  They did at Michigan in June.  Make the Chase.  They did, but ended up finishing 12th out of 12 Chase contenders.  Not a great year for the 88 team, but they improved tons over 2007, their last year with DEI.  My personal feeling is that Tony Jr. be given a chance in 2009.  I know many of my Earnhardt Nation brethren feel differently, but I say give Tony a second year at Hendrick Motorsports.  If they don't do a better job in 2009, I'll join the anti Eury Jr. choir on this one.  If I see 2 or more wins, and see Junior competing for wins during the Chase, I will vote that Tony Jr. stay on the job.  Personally, I see Junior's mind wandering at the end of a long season.  I'm not questioning his commitment to the job, I'm just saying that Junior probably needs a little extra pumping up when it gets to the end of a long, grueling season.  He's human, as are we all, but if he's going to win the whole enchilada, he needs more cheerleaders on the radio, and Tony Jr. can help more in that area than he has in the past.  I say both Jr.'s need to step up to the plate a little more in 2009, and if they can do that, they can win it all.  That's what they're for anyway, isn't it?

Let's get the Show on the Road!

It's 2009, and it's almost time to go racing again!  Let's see a show of hands for who you want to win in 2009!  Ok, down in the front there.  I doubt that Dick Trickle will win in 2009.  I'm sorry, but I'm just going to say it.

2009 is a brand new year with brand new promises for wins and championships.  Am I going to predict winners?  No, I'm not.  I'm going to predict some losers though.

EGR, which is the name for the new Earnhardt Ganassi Racing will not win in 2009, unless it's at a road course with Juan Pablo Montoya.  Martin Truex, Jr., please call your agent.  EGR is doomed to fail, just as has DEI in the last few years.  Put the fork in it, it's done.  

GEM will not produce greatly in 2009. Buying out Petty didn't gain much except the number 43, which was a major number in the sport, but no longer is.  Richard Petty doesn't drive the 43 anymore, and though Andretti and Hamilton, the number would have lost it's luster years ago.  Not really, of course.  For major fans of NASCAR, the 43 will always be famous.

As will the 21.  As will the 3.  As will other numbers.  But some of those will not be back this year, or possibly ever again.

What's in store for 2009?  Probably more of the same.  Hendrick, Roush, JGR, and maybe RCR will win the races in 2009.  I expect a surprise win by Stewart-Haas Racing as well, who will be running Hendrick equipment.  We might see a win by a minor team as well, such as GEM, but I don't expect any miracles from the EGR group.

Who's my winner for the Daytona 500?  I predict Jeff Burton.  I don't know why, but I just dream about it happening.  I see all the RCR cars running strong at Daytona, and newcomer Casey Mears putting in a strong appearance.  Watch out for Kevin Harvick, who knows how to win this race.  He's done it before.

Watch out for a guy named Earnhardt as well.  He's won here a lot, and you just never count out anyone named Earnhardt at Daytona.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Time Goes By So Slowly

And time can do so much, as the old song says.  It's much the same way in NASCAR's off-season as well.  Yes, the tedium of no racing and very much reduced coverage leaves us hardcore race fans feeling like we're living in a vacuum.  The news that has filtered through, however, has been rather grim.

With the  few strokes of a couple of pens, Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Petty Enterprises have basically ceased to exist.  What was DEI is now partnered with Chip Ganassi Racing to become Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.  At least the name remains, but little of what Dale must have envisioned for his family business will exist in 2009 and beyond.  What was once NASCAR's greatest team has been swallowed up by a relatively new upstart, Gillett Evernham Motorsports.  GEM will now own the most famous number in the sport's history, the 43.

It is likely that there will be no one named Petty racing in NASCAR in 2009.  It is possible, for the first time since the very founding of the sport, that no one named Petty will even be involved in any of the teams in 2009.  Has the era of Petty finally ended for good?  If so, I personally am removing my hat and bowing my head in a moment of silence.

It appears that another founding team will only be seen on occasion in 2009.  The Wood Brothers 21 is only planning to run a hand full of races in 2009, unless major sponsorship becomes available.  For those of you who are old enough, or have been a fan long enough to remember those classic battles between the 21 Wood Brothers car driven by David Pearson and the 43 Petty Enterprises car driven by Richard Petty,  knowing that the day has finally come that neither of these teams will even be a presence at the track is a very sobering realization.  NASCAR has truly turned a full circle now.

Several drivers are looking for rides in 2009; the most prominent among them being Eliot Sadler and Bobby Labonte.  Both drivers signed contract extensions with their owners during the 2008 season, yet both of them are looking for a ride for 2009.  I sincerely hope that both of these drivers, and others as well, find the sponsorship and support they need to go racing in the Sprint Cup series in 2009.

All is not forlorn though.  Even though fans have suffered through the usual doldrums that occur in the average off season, plus the knowledge of the tough times our sport faces, there is good news.  It's now 2009, officially.  As I write this, the 2009 Daytona 500 is only 42 days away, and even though because of testing bans, the Daytona Speedweeks will be somewhat shortened, the end of the tunnel is beginning to come into sight once again.  In just a matter of weeks, the NASCAR faithful will once again be treated to the spectacle that is our sport's greatest race, and all the excitement that will entail.

I'll be saddened to see the teams who will not be at Daytona this year, and saddened by the passing of eras that many of us thought would never end, but as a fan, I am ready to get back to the pageantry, the drama, and the just flat out fun that is NACAR racing.