I am probably the least technically minded person involved with this website, or, for that matter, anywhere in the racing world. My understanding of computers and technical instruments barely exceeds that of the monkey who used to ride with Tim Flock. In fact, giving that statement some thought, the monkey may actually have me on that. When I had to replace my first cell phone a few years back, I went into the Cingular store and told the guy I wanted a phone without a camera or any of those things. He looked at me as if I was crazy and told me that all phones came with a camera. Took a while to learn to use it, but I did.
I will never forget when I received the first text message. I didn't know what it was or why my phone was making that strange noise. I had to ask one of the attorney’s for whom I worked what that was all about. Once it was explained to me, I could handle that one and I am now text partner for a large number of folks and I enjoy it. I can make calls, receive calls, text, take pictures, and videos and that is the extent of it. My darling wife, on the other hand, has Facebook on her phone, plays games on her phone, and does a couple hundred other things of which I have no clue. It is not that I haven't tried to learn, and I have learned a little, but my brain is just not wired to computer technical information.
I am fortunate to have three grandsons close by who can handle any technical issues for me. In addition, I have a granddaughter in New Hampshire who can do wonderful things with a computer. With all those and my technically inclined wife, I am doing ok.
I have entitled this Legendtorial "Buttons" because I want to tell you just how much the simple things impress me. As I was dressing for church this morning (I'm writing this Sunday) I was buttoning my shirt when I realized that even something as simple as a button going through the button hole impresses me. I guess I have always been amazed at the ability of mankind to invent things needed to make life better. Televisions and radios amaze me. Certainly, the automobile has always amazed me but this morning I realized that even the simple little things like a button can be amazing.
Ever the researcher when something strikes my curiosity, I attempted to research the history of buttons, but to even begin to touch that subject would require much more than a two-hour radio show. Simply stated, buttons were used much more for decoration than for fastening together two pieces of garments but someone finally figured out that the button (usually plastic although the first ones were believed to be seashells) could be pushed through a little hole and fasten the garments pieces together. Buttoning my shirt this morning actually fascinated me when I stopped to think how simple was the principle, but how wonderfully useful it was.
Another thing about the buttons I have to admit is that I can no longer handle them as I once did. My fingers and my hands have become so stiff with age, that trying to push a button through the hole is more work that it once was. I don't do too badly with the buttons up the front, but it is those small buttons on the sleeves and those little buttons on the button-down collars that absolutely resist all efforts of my fingers to get them fastened. Although I didn't have to this morning, I have had to go to Ann to get those buttons done! Once was the time when I wore shirts with the button down collars to work every day. Thankfully, I had no such stiffness of the fingers in those days. Fastening buttons was simple then.
The beauty of all things simple is even more expressed in my understanding of racing. I did an interview at Bill Blair's shop back late last year for Bill's group "Our Racing Heroes". Our own Leon Phillips directed that interview (meaning that he got to yell "Action" a few times) and Todd Morris did the video work. Not sure if my awesome Editor can attach that video to this Legendtorial but maybe so. At the beginning of that video, Bill asks if I know what this simple looking tool is. I did not know. To me, it was a very simple looking blade of metal on a shaft of metal but Bill went on to explain that back in the day when his Daddy raced, that tool was used in engine preparation of the flat-head. I was impressed. On the history floor of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where, incidentally we will visit on Saturday May 9th, there are several such simple devices improvised by such as the Wood Brothers for handling things in racing for which there were no other tools available. Simple and to the point, and born out of necessity.
After the button episode of this morning, as I was driving to church, I began to think of the simplicity of that button to what racing was when I started going in 1952. Stock car racing started as a simple sport run on dirt bullrings often carved out of pastures or cornfields. There was, of course, the beach at Daytona where racing received much more attention than the short bullrings, but it was from those simple little bullrings that the sport was spawned.
Further, it was from the simple folk, the mountain folk, and the farmers, that the drivers, owners and fans came. The red dirt of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, and the sands of Daytona, along with the stony mountains of Tennessee, were the hotbeds, with the Virginia valleys sharing in the start as well. The cars were simple, the rules were simple, and the sport was simple to understand, even to a boy of five.
Racing in the 50s was a simple event, with the exception, maybe, of the Southern 500 at Darlington. Races of 50 or 100 miles on a half-mile or quarter-mile dirt track with a large field of cars, for the most part stock cars, running for the win. The rules were simple, some saying not much more than a page or two in a small NASCAR rulebook.
In the early 60s, Grand National Racing was growing with the addition of Daytona, Charlotte, and Atlanta, but, for the most part, the racing was still as simple as picking up a stock car from a dealership and equipping it with the necessary safety equipment and doing minor "tune up" work to the engine and go racing. Then in the mid-60s, along comes the manufacturer wars, which pitted Ford against Chrysler and General Motors just bailed. NASCAR made poor decisions in first outlawing the Mopars and later fiddling with the Fords.
Then, along comes the 70s. Winged monsters such as the Dodge Daytona and the Plymouth Superbird were fighting off Ford Talladegas and Mercury Cyclones for a year before the winged cars were forced into collectors’ hands. The mid 70s saw somewhat of a balance between all the manufacturers but by the end of the decade, it was all out war. It has been since that time.
NASCAR came up with the "Car of Tomorrow" in an attempt to make all cars equal and put the outcome in the hands of the driver. The COT was the biggest disaster since the fate of the Titanic. The current model, the Gen-6 as they are called, are pretty much all the same, but are allowed to maintain some brand identity from the front view.
The NASCAR Rule Book these days, for those fortunate enough to have actually seen one, is thick and I am imagining printed in small print. There are rules to cover every possible event and should there not be a rule specific, there is a blank page or two to add whatever may be required. There is also the NASCAR option of declaring anything they so choose to do, as "detrimental to the sport" and thereby impose whatever sanctions they, NASCAR, deem appropriate.
Problem is, in my eyes, nothing about the sport is simple anymore. I don't recognize the vehicles as automobiles, rather hand constructed missiles made out of materials not found on our street versions. There are more safety devices now on the cars than there once were parts, and that's a good thing for sure, but some of those devices are not simple for me to understand.
I guess my entire problem today is having watched the Bristol race last weekend and then watched the lead up to the rainout at Richmond Saturday night. By the time the Waltrip brothers and the rest of the FOX crew finished explaining every possible aspect of what they perceive to be the purpose of racing; I was as dumbfounded as though I have never really witnessed a race. To hear D.W. intone during the broadcast of the race that the six or seven kids shown in the grandstands "are the future or our sport" was astounding to me. I would like to think that, but judging from the lack of total fans in the stands at Richmond (not counting Bristol because of the ready-made weather excuse) you can't help but wonder if there is a future to the sport. From what I've read, with the exception of the Daytona 500, the other seven races thus far this year have bagged television ratings the lowest ever recorded. Oh, NASCAR and the network have plenty of excuses for the ratings, but the simple answer is nobody really gets the thrill of it anymore, me included.
As I have often said, and continue to say, I watch because I always have and I will always have a love for the sport in my heart. But, I need to point out that as it is getting more and more difficult for me to handle the buttons on my shirt, so it is getting more and more difficult for me to handle what has happened to what was once the greatest sport in the world (in my biased opinion). Racing used to be simple. Get a car, take it to track, race it, enjoy it, and become a part of the sport with fans and other participants. Not so today. Getting an autograph of a driver today is more complicated than trigonometry. Shouldn't be that way. It is difficult for me to handle buttons these days. I can't help but wonder will it become difficult for me to handle racing in the future. I hope not. I think not, but I never really thought about the complications of handling a button until the last few months.
To those of us who were a part of the sport in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, we have something that will never be duplicated. I love my encounters with the new fans and the young fans and some of them are quite into the sport. But it is never as it was with us. Once was we were brand loyal. Not so much anymore. Once was we were sponsor loyal. Do you even know who the sponsor was on Jimmie Johnson's number 48 at Richmond? I don't actually recall. Once was we had a favorite driver for reasons other than his ability to perform a smoking burnout after a victory.
"Could it be that it all was so simple then, or has time rewritten every line" is from the theme song of the movie "The Way We Were". Think about it; "the way we were". That is part of my desire to honor the past because what we had then is exemplified in the names of so many of the drivers who attend and participate in the RacersReunion events. The fans of today may not know those names, but sometimes it's not because we aren't trying to make them known.
So, the next time you are pushing a button through that button hole, let it remind you that stock car racing has come a long way but, as Billy Biscoe says so eloquently "Don't forget your roots". I pray that we here at RacersReunion never do.