Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Not Nascar Related. Not much, at least

I'm now back in what I consider my home, a place about 10 miles north of Greer, South Carolina.  There is no town here, but we call it Blue Ridge, since Blue Ridge High and Middle Schools are located nearby.  I graduated from Blue Ridge High School in 1981.  The building in which I attended school no longer exists, but the new middle school stands on the site.  When I was in school, there was no middle school in the area.

The area in which I live is not considered the mountains, but neither is it considered the Piedmont area, which stretches from northern Alabama to Virginia.  Where I live is the foothills.  The Piedmont is south of here, where the land gradually gets a little flatter.

Foothills they are too, no doubt.  I can see the Blue Ridge Mountains from here clearly.  It's not steep, but it's hilly.  Roads are generally winding up and down, left and right.  I probably live on one of the few straight roads in the area, and it's a small two lane road about 2 and a half miles long. It's not flat, but the rises and valleys are gentle.

When I was a kid, we played football, basketball, and baseball.  Our favorite sport on TV though was stock car racing, in the form of the Grand National Series, which later became the Winston Cup Series, which is now the Sprint Cup Series.

We watched drivers such as Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Isaac, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, and many, many others that partook of the various tracks that abounded all around the nation in those days.  The racing was door handle to door handle, and we were always on the edge of our seats, or had our hands dug into the rugs or carpet as we watched the races unfold.  Often the race was at least a week old, but we didn't care.  If it was on TV, it was new and exciting to kids like me.

I didn't grow up in a poor family, as many did around this area at the time.  My dad was an engineer and made good money.  He always provided us with everything we ever needed.  My dad grew up in the 1930's though, and he was the 6th of 7 children.  He WAS poor when he was a kid, and he taught my brothers and sister and me to pinch pennies from an early age.  In between jobs, I've had the opportunity to hone those skills over the recent years.

In my family, Nascar was not a way of life.  Getting up and going to school, and later going to work and making a living were the norms.  I seemed to be the only child of a fairly normal family to become infected with Nascar fever.

A turning point in my life occurred in 1993, when Davey Allison died.  I was driving to Atlanta, Ga every day, and for several days after I heard of Davey's crash at Talladega Speedway, I looked to the west, and thought I saw Davey in the clouds far off in the west of Atlanta.  I never met Davey Allison, but felt like I knew him, even in those far off days before Twitter and Facebook.

Another turning point was on February 18, 2001.  Dale Earnhardt died.  I didn't mourn for a day.  I mourned for probably a year.  Maybe more. Maybe I still am mourning.  Of course I am.  To me and millions of other fans, Dale was the man who could never die.  He did though.  I never really met Dale Earnhardt either, but I was a fan of the man who could never be underestimated.

These days, I'm mostly a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr.  I'm also a fan of Kevin Harvick, and Kasey Kahne.  I'm a fan of Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, and even Danica Patrick.  I'm even a grudging fan of Kurt Busch.  In the Nationwide series, I love what Casey Elliot is doing.

I've been lucky enough to attend several races, and even meet a few of my heroes, which is basically anyone who has ever driven at the highest level of stock car racing.  For a boy from the hills of the Blue Ridge, it's an honor.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lazy, Crazy Days of Summer

As the remaining "regular season" races begin to wind down, the scramble begins in earnest for the teams on the outside of the Chase trying to break their way in.  So far, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have virtually clinched Chase berths with multiple wins and points.  It's safe to say that probably anyone who has won a race so far in 2014 will be in the Chase as well, but there are no real guarantees.

I have complained loudly about NASCAR's ability to screw up a perfectly good thing by monkeying around with such things as points, the Car of Tomorrow, the infamous splitter, and numerous other changes that have taken place since Brian France took over the reigns of my favorite sport.

This time, though, I think NASCAR got it right.

The complaint in the past has been that not enough emphasis was placed on winning races.  That's changed.  You pretty much have to win to get into the Chase now.  Even one win does not necessarily guarantee a Chase spot.

Consistency is also important in the road to the Chase.  Putting together a good string of top 5 and top 10 finishes definitely increases your ability to get into the Chase early.  A team that is assured of a spot early can afford to experiment more, and get set up for the actual Chase for the Cup.  A team that's fighting their way in has to protect itself at all costs and not have a bad finish, or else their hopes for a championship may go down the drain.

I don't often compliment NASCAR, but I see the new points structure as one of the best changes they've made in recent years.

A shout out to my new favorite writer, PattyKay Lilley at Click here for PattyKay's latest.

On to Indy after a weekend off!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The First Grand National Race That I Remember

That I remember in any kind of detail, that is.  I was about 8 years old when this race took place.  I knew people who went to the race, and I was envious.  I remember that some radio station (WESC?) broadcast the race, and if I'm not mistaken, Ken Squier and the Motor Racing Network.  The highlights were shown on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

I don't remember specifically when I became aware of Barney Hall.  It was during that period in the early 1970's that I listened to, and watched whatever highlights I could find on Wide World of Sports and the local news.  I read everything there was having to do with racing in the Greenville News.  I loved everything there was about stock car racing.

I had watched coverage of some of the other types of racing as well.  The Indy 500.  Lemans.  Sebring.  I like them all, but there was something special about stock car racing.  It was local!  This was all happening right here in the town in which I grew up.  People like David Pearson and James Hylton lived just 20 miles from where I did.  Even the great Richard Petty lived just a couple hours up the road.

The race below, I was happy to see, is the full race. It even has commercials, and very few of them by today's standards. The great Jim McKay called it, and I'm sure Ken and Barney were probably there as well, though I don't remember specifically.

Over the years, my love of stock car racing has only grown.  Barney Hall eventually became a voice I knew very, very well.  He had the accent, the voice, the personality that could have belonged to a cousin, a neighbor.  He sounded like us!  Since Barney Hall came from Elkin, North Carolina, that's not big surprise.  He was practically a neighbor!

To me, Barney Hall was a given.  He was always there.  Week in and week out, if I couldn't see the race on TV, I knew I could always hear Barney Hall and MRN, unless it was one of those tracks where PRN did the broadcasts.

A year or so ago, I became aware that Barney had some health issues, and was not on the broadcasts for quite a while.  I was concerned.  It was like hearing that a favorite uncle was ill.  Not the the other guys, such as Joe Moore, Winston Kelley, Alex Striegle, and all the rest don't do a great job, because the do.  For me, Barney Hall is the connection between past and present.  Now that Barney won't be the regular play by play announcer, and era has ended. For that, I am sad, but grateful that the broadcasts will continue with the rest of the crew, who have proven that they can perform up to Barney's standards.

In my usual disjointed way, I will now digress back to the title topic of this piece, which is the 1971 Greenville 200, which took place at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Pickens County, SC on April 10th, 1971.  GPS had just been paved for the first time the year before, so this was almost like a brand new track for the drivers that day.

Back in the old days, Cup teams used to regularly test at Greenville-Pickens before heading off for the Cup races at Martinsville Speedway.  The corners are flat, and it proved to be a good track to set up for Martinsville.  I have been to many races at this track, which is still in use today.  I wish I had seen a Grand National race there, but I didn't and those days are gone forever.

Here's to the past.  Here's to the present.  Here's to the future.

Here's to Barney Hall.  Thank you Barney.  May you find joy in all you future endeavors.