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.

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