Soapy's Benefit Race
This is the third and final segment of stories written in 2003 connected to Darlington RacewaySoapy CastlesOne of the few things that NASCAR has done to curb the spiraling cost of auto racing is cut down on the number of days a team needs to be at a race track each week. When the Grand National division (Now known as Winston Cup and soon to be known as the Nextel Cup) dropped the smaller races and went strictly with the "major" tracks, the practice and qualifying schedule would start with inspections and practice on Wednesdays and qualifying would begin Thursday afternoon.The starting field for the first several events at Darlington consisted of 75 cars, but that number was cut to 36 for quite a while. Presently, all races consist of 43 starters, regardless of the size of the track.The fastest 20 or so cars would make the starting field on Thursday and drivers who did not make the field on the first day had a choice of attempting to qualify again or he/she could stand on his/her time in hopes it would be fast enough to make the field on the second day. There were three positions that would be determined in a consolation race that was run on Saturday.There was one driver who was a professional consolation race winner. In fact, the consolation race was named "Soapy's Benefit Race" by longtime race director John Bruner. Neil "Soapy" Castles knew exactly what speed he had to run during qualifying so as NOT to make the field, but fast enough that he got a good starting position on Saturday afternoon. Castles was an independent driver, without the big sponsorship money available to the front-runners, so the extra money that came with winning the consolation event which led to him making the field for the big race was very important.Castles never won a Winston Cup event, but did finish second on two occasions. Actually he made more money wrecking cars than he did trying to keep the race cars off the walls on Saturday and Sunday. He was a professional stunt driver for movies, TV and commercials as well as racing. He was definitely one who did not tolerate being pushed around.One Saturday afternoon at Darlington, "Soapy" was well on his way to winning "his" race and on the last lap, he approached a slower car and the driver somehow failed to give Castles enough room to get by and the second place driver slipped past and won the race, with Castles finishing second. As all the drivers came into the garage area, the driver of the lapped car parked next to where this writer was standing and crawled out of the window and as his feet hit the ground, Castles came up in a fast walk carrying a paste wax can in his hand. He walked up to the driver, drew back and planted a glancing blow down the face of him and gingerly said to him, "Don't ever do that again," and walked away.Many of the drivers and mechanics had gathered around the bleeding driver and up walks one of the NASCAR officials who asked what had happened. The wounded driver explained that he had slipped on some oil and hit his cheek on the side of a work bench.There are many more stories about Castles, but he was a likable fella who would do anything for you if he liked you. If he didn't like you, the best thing to do would be get as far away as possible.Now that each team brings as many as 30 people to a racing event, the sanctioning body has cut two days out of the stay at the different venues as inspection, practice and qualifying is done on Friday. Usually a support event (trucks or Grand National cars) will take place on Saturday and the Winston Cup event will compete on Sunday.The drivers and crews will leave home Thursday afternoon and fly to the various tracks and fly back after the event on Sunday. Most of the crew members will be back on the job Monday morning and will go through the same routine again on Thursday.