First things first, tonight. Let’s get this past weekend behind us with both the Nationwide, soon to be Xfinity, or X-lax, or X Racing, whatever. I watched that race from Richmond Friday night and have to say it was one of the most boring races I have ever watched and not because Kyle Busch led every lap and virtually ran away from the field on each restart. It was simply not what I had come to expect from a short track, much less from Richmond. The Richmond facility is usually known for putting on a good show but the Friday night event was not one of those. I already had my finger on the "tv off" button of the remote when Kyle came off turn four heading for the checkers. The instant the checkers waved, my television was off. I had absolutely no desire to see his post race celebration, especially after watching the total ass he has made of himself the past three or four weeks when losing, virtually every time through his own errors. Hope he feels good that he was able to take that race Friday night. Congratulations, cry baby Busch, guess you didn’t need the Kleenex this time.
Now, fast forward to Saturday night and the Cup race. This time it was my favorite, Brad Kesolowski virtually stinking up the show. Other than 17 laps that Kevin Harvick was able to lead, Bad Brad led the entire race and really had no competition, even with the well-timed debris cautions which magically seemed to appear just as Danica needed them. No accusing here, just saying it sure worked in her favor. Anyway, with that win, his fourth of the season, Brad was able to put himself in the number one spot for this upcoming Chase for the next ten races. I was discussing the lack of good racing with several of my racing friends today (Sunday) and we all agreed that with commercials thrown in every 12 to 20 laps, it was difficult to tell whether or not there was really good racing going on. One of my friends, in attendance at the track,(not the guy who climbed the fence) said there was a lot of three and four wide racing back in the pack. I guess the only time we really got to see that was when Brad was coming up on lapped traffic and had to battle through those roadblocks.
Now, at last, we are here. We are about to start The Chase this coming Sunday at Chicagoland. That race, and the two after it, will determine which 12 drivers will advance to the next stage. I am not even going to try to use the terminology NASCAR is using to describe this deal. And we thought WE had the Goat Rodeo!!! Anyway, I will be watching, not to see who does what in The Chase, but just to see the racing. I think I have reached the point that it really doesn’t matter to me which driver NASCAR decides to crown the Champion because it is never going to mean what it did before the first implementation of The Chase.
NASCAR, I do have a suggestion for you about your commercials for that Chase. If "epic" is the only word your spokesman can come up with to describe the event, then you best invest in a good Thesaurus. The only "Epic Battle" that comes to mind when used by NASCAR is the one from the Shrek video game my granddaughter used to force me to play with her every time she was here for a sleepover as a little kid. The deep voice of the game would intone that it was time for an "Epic Battle". For NASCAR to describe this convoluted Chase debacle as an "epic battle" gives me a good laugh, nothing more. Oh, and the part about the drivers carrying "the hopes and dreams of the nation on their shoulders", come on!!!! You’re dreaming NASCAR. You can’t get folks in the stands, your television ratings are lower than the approval rating of Congress and you think this 16 to 12, to 8 to 4 is going to capture an audience. Whomever came up with that has been mixing the NOSE-Picking Energy with the "spinergy" 5 hour. Please give those of us who continue to watch, few though we are, credit for a little intelligence.
Now please allow me to go to a very special part of tonight’s Legendtorial. When I was at the J.B. Day event in June, both Harvey Tollison and Joe Cawley asked me to attend the next meeting of the Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society as they prepared for the upcoming 11th Annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on September 12th, this coming Friday night. I did go to that meeting, not knowing how I could possibly contribute to a group that has been doing such an outstanding job of recognizing those folks important to the history of the sport in the Augusta area. I did know that Augusta holds a very special place in my heart for several reasons.
First up was the fact that the track was close to home, back in the day, just an hour and 45 minutes down Highway U.S. 1 from Columbia. We made the trip down for almost all the Grand National races. But I especially remember the great build up for the Augusta 510, the race scheduled to be run on the three-mile, 21 turn road course on November 17, 1963. Of all the races I had been able to attend, from the quarter-mile dirt tracks to the 2.5 mile Daytona track, I had not had the privilege of seeing a race on a road course. My friends and I were absolutely counting down the hours until we could make that trip down Highway 1 on Sunday morning for the race.
I clearly remember loading up the family car, a black and white 1956 Plymouth Station wagon, with the ice chest, drinks and sandwiches, and my brother Richard, and friends Sam McClary and Jeff Lever made the drive. We had our "Petty Fan Club" flags a-flapping and put one in the wire of the infield fence as soon as we established our parking place on the expansive infield. There was no doubt in our minds that Richard Petty was going to win that day.
The 510 miles was actually scrapped when lap speeds clearly showed they could not complete that distance before dark. Instead, the race was to conclude at 5:00 p.m. by the clock, and the leader at that point was to be the winner. Fred Lorenzen started on the pole but lasted only 11 laps before his Ford suffered engine failure. Other drivers led, but it was Richard Petty staying out front and pulling away for 42 laps before a gear in his Plymouth failed and he limped into the garage area. Marvin Panch took over when Petty parked his Plymouth but Pancho lasted only a few laps before he joined Petty behind the wall. It was then that Fireball Roberts took over and led the last 11 laps to win, becoming the only NASCAR driver at the time to have won twice on a roadcourse track. This would be the last victory for the Fireball as he would suffer what turned out to be fatal injuries in the 1964 World 600. In fact, of the top seven finishers, only Ned Jarrett would be left alive at the end of the 1964 season as Fireball, Joe Weatherly, Dave McDonald, Billy Wade, Jimmy Pardue and Larry Thomas would all be killed in accidents, Thomas being the only one not to occur on a race track.
The Augusta 510 was the ONLY NASCAR event to ever be staged on that track, although there were a couple of sports car events. As I reported in a Forum Post from last year, the footprint of the track is still there and some of the area actually remains paved, though cracked and potholed, and I actually drove around it.
My other special memory of Augusta, this time the half-mile high banked track, was the second race I drove. I had driven my first race on Thursday, August 21, 1969, at Columbia Speedway. Through the kindness of Herbert Corley, I was able to use a trailer to get my Plymouth to Augusta for the Saturday night race on August 23rd. Finished second in the second heat race which gave me outside second row starting position. When the green waved in the feature, the cars on the front row got together slightly and went low leaving the outside high groove open coming out of turn two. I just mashed the gas and went into turn three leading. I actually led seven laps before a fast ’56 Chevy went by me.
This past Saturday, I left Columbia in bright sunshine at 9:00 a.m. heading for Augusta for the final meeting of AIRPS before this weekend’s festivities. About 30 miles from home, I was enveloped in a thick fog that lasted about 20 miles before coming out into a gray and misty rain. That was the scene as I entered the Diamond Lakes Park in Augusta. I was early by 30 minutes so I got out of my car and walked over to the monument erected there to honor the drivers of the Augusta tracks. As I stood there and took in the names on the list for that road course race, my mind whirled in memories of such drivers as Tiny Lund, Curtis Crider, Frank Warren, Wendell Scott, Johnny Allen, Neil Castles, Larry Frank, G.C. Spencer, Roy Tyner, Jack Smith, and Bobby Johns along with the other names making up the 36 car field that day.
I walked over to what was pit road for that race and looked down both ways. As I stood there in the silence, interrupted only by a Mustang that was exercising its engine down the nearby road, it was as though a time machine had transported me back 51 years and I could see that number 22 Ford flashing by heading for the win.
These memories are the reason I will be in Augusta this Friday night as James Bozeman, Robert Hoffman, Bill Oswald, Richard Luther, Jimmy Martin and Fred Lorenzen are all honored by induction into the AIRPS Hall of Fame. To some of you listening tonight, some of those names may not be familiar. It is for that reason that I am dedicated to doing what I can to see that the pioneers of this sport are not forgotten in the modern-day world that seems to have forgotten how to honor the past. Those things are important to me, and obviously important to a number of folks in Augusta.
The banquet Friday night starts at 6:00 p.m. and tickets are $20.00 for some fine food and the ceremony. Tickets are limited so if you want to attend, please e-mail me asap (give them the e-mail Bopper) so I can try to hold a ticket in your name. Saturday, at the old track, we are expecting between 70 to 80 race cars and upwards of 100 drivers from the area to appear. Saturday is all free and there will be an autograph session with all those drivers available to sign autographs. No wrist bands and no limit on items you want autographed, just be there. This is going to be a great time for all so I hope to see many of you at least on Saturday.