Before we talk about my conversation with a long time friend, I want to take a minute to congratulate Matt Crafton for his championship in the Camping World Truck series. It was Matt’s second consecutive title, something that hasn’t been done in the Camping World Series before. We already congratulated young Chase Elliott on his Nationwide Championship last week, but it bears repeating tonight. Huge accomplishment for a young man. I do hope they follow through with the statement made after Phoenix to keep him in the second tier series another year. I think Chase will only benefit from that additional year in Xfinity and be a huge threat in the Cup Series when he comes on board. I know Rick Hendrick is licking his lips waiting to put Chase in that Cup Car. I would almost bet Rick is considering buying out Kasey Kahne’s contract and putting Chase in the car next year, but I hope not.
Although I had a lot of bad things to say about Kevin Harvick last week (Ya think?) I congratulate him on the 2014 Sprint Cup Championship and his win in the final event in Homestead Sunday. I think Kevin and Ryan gave it everything they had and Harvick didn’t “want” it any more that they did, he just had the better car. As for Hamlin and Logano, they gave it their best shot, but it was pit action that caused their demise. That statement was not at all intended to disparage the pit crew of either team. Lord knows, if I have been on either of those crews I would have folded under the pressure when we had to push the car to the starting line. Watching those guys doing amazing feats in right around 12 seconds quickly answers the question about who may be real athletes. A huge round of applause to all 43 pit crews for a long season of really difficult and pressure packed performance. I’m glad they have started putting your names on the back of the uniform just so I know the name even though it is not likely I will ever encounter you in my travels.
A very special congratulations to Kyle Larson who won the Rookie of the Year. I don’t think that title was ever in doubt, but the season Kyle had kept the excitement level high. I am truly surprised that he didn’t get a win this year but my money says the new season will bring the kid some victory lane celebrations in the Cup Series. I would also like to just mention that Cole Whit impressed me this year with his total effort in an underfinanced ride. Cole is a fine young man who should have a great future in the sport when his talent and dedication are recognized by the big bucks teams.
Obviously, if you haven’t noticed by now, the tone of tonight’s Legendtorial is somewhat different from last week. In fact, it is quite different from many of the very negative Legendtorials I have done over the years. You may think it’s getting close to Christmas and I am trying to avoid the usual coal in my stocking, but it is more than that……much, much more than that.
After the race last night, I had already “roughed out” this week’s edition before going to bed. But things changed this morning. I had a very long conversation with a very good friend of mine I have known for many years. He is as big a race fan as I am and he has been around the sport in just about every capacity imaginable. He is well-known and while not nearly as opinionated as I, he has had his moments. During our almost two-hour conversation this morning (Monday) I learned many things I have known but either forgot or brushed them aside in an effort to be “cute”. (No comment needed from you on that statement Jeff). The essence of the conversation on Monday morning caused me to shred the “rough draft” and as I sit down here just after noon Monday, an entirely different Legendtorial is springing forth from my flying fingers.
As my friend reminded me, we both have been around NASCAR and stock car racing since the early 50s. We have seen dirt track races, short track races, been to all the major speedways, have met most of the drivers known in this history of the sport. We have seen change upon change in the NASCAR points system, remembering the time when points were awarded based on race purses, when points were awarded based on race distance, and a couple dozen other systems before Bob Latford came up with the system used for Winston Cup. Incidentally, I do have an interview with Bob Latford on my first syndicated half hour radio show back in the nineties where he explains all that went into that system.
My friend reminded me of all the times he and I would make very negative comments about NASCAR, especially when the Mopars were outlawed in 1965. We talked about our memories of Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Lee Petty, and so many more we had watched race all across the south. We talked about how we felt about NASCAR leaving its roots and expanding nationwide when he reminded me that even in the 50s they were racing from Canada to Iowa to California, so that was nothing new. We talked about Darlington getting the Southern 500 back on Labor Day weekend this year and how insulted we had been when it was moved.
We talked about all the drivers we absolutely detested over the years due to whatever reason we came up with like “they drove a Ford” or “they wrecked our guy to win a race”. Together we covered sixty plus years of racing in two hours and many, many more memories of the wonderful times of those years. It was quite an adventure. No, I will not name the gentlemen because I doubt anyone out there would believe who it was anyway, but I am glad I took that call. If nothing else, it renewed an acquaintance with someone I had almost forgotten and it assures me that he and I will be great friends for the rest of our respective lives and that we are probably going to enjoy some races together next year. The bottom line of what I took away from my extended phone call is that I have no reason to bad mouth any driver out there. They are all giving their best. Sure, I am never, ever going to like Toyota being in NASCAR but that is an inbred result of things known to me. Enough said on that.
I have been really insulting to Brian France and to NASCAR and I’m not sure Brian and I will ever sit down together for dinner, but if you read this Brian, I will not turn down an invitation if extended. You and I will never agree on “The Chase” but then, as my friend so eloquently put it, I don’t have to agree. Using the old standby line, it is what it is and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to watch. There are many other things I could be doing on Sunday afternoons, but, as I was reminded, I’ve been involved with the sport for so long it is sort of like a second life to me.
We also discussed the fact that Jeff Gordon had the most accumulated points this year and should have been Champ under the old system. But they didn’t race under the old system. Simply put, if a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his butt when he hopped. I am not a fan of The Chase, probably never will be, but I do have to say that the race Sunday was as competitive and as exciting as it could possibly have been. It was also good to see Tony Stewart smiling, although I thought his attitude was greatly reserved for an owner just winning a Cup title. I hope he is back on track now. Congratulations Tony. It was Will Cronkite who mentioned in a Forum Post response that all teams started out equal in February and all teams had the same chance to perform each week. Thanks, Will.
I have mentioned this before, but I like the analogy so I’ll do it again. My favorite part of the “Days of Thunder” movie is the start when they are showing the sun coming up over the Daytona track, something I personally experienced many, many years. That sort of represents the start of the season for me. It is almost anti-climatic that Homestead ends after sunset to end the season. Something poetic there but I’m not good with poetry. With the end of another season, it is sort of like standing on the fantail (back) of my ship in the Navy. You could see the wake from the ship spreading out as far behind you as you could see. It became wider and wider as we moved forward, but it was always marking the path we had been. I guess that’s the way I look at the history of the sport. It is an ever-present trail of where we have been and until the waves wash it away, it will be there. I hope the waves never wash away what vivid and wonderful memories I have shared this morning with my friend. I hope the true history of NASCAR racing will always be preserved as it should be, and thanks to the efforts of so many individuals I think it will. I have read, and heard, several times since Sunday night, that Kevin Harvick won the title in the number FOUR, and the last one to win a title with that number was Rex White. How very appropriate that Rex is being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January and Kevin will be the 2014 Champ. Poetic Justice? Maybe.
Just like standing on the bow of the ship at sea, your eyes are burning from the wind and salt spray and you really can’t see that far ahead. Nothing like the wake you leave behind you, but you know you are moving because you can hear the sea splashing against the bow. Let us always keep moving forward but remember to look back at that ever-widening wake left by our progress.
And Brian, if you want to invite me to dine, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org