As I sit at the keyboard, it is Friday afternoon of an "off" NASCAR Cup weekend before the "Throwback" Labor Day weekend Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway - the "Lady in Black" - the "Granddaddy of Them All." My mind has drifted to another throwback, a race that wasn't telecast or videotaped. It was, however, broadcast live coast to coast on MRN Radio and around the world via Armed Forces Radio Network.
I don't want to spoil all of this event for you, so I'm purposely painting a brief picture with a very wide brush.
This race took place at a track that back in 1974 wasn't yet being called "The Paperclip."
Only 3 races remained on the Cup schedule after this event and the Winston Cup Championship was being hotly contested. The finishing positions in this event would be crucial in determining the 1974 Winston Cup Champion.
Starting on the pole that gorgeous fall afternoon in Virginia was the "King" of stock car racing. Starting beside the King in the other front row position was a huge surprise. It was a 45-year-old restaurant owner owner from Richmond, Virginia who wore "Coke bottle" thick glasses and drove like a bull in a china shop.Â He drove an immaculately prepared powder blue colored car owned by "The Golden Greek" - himself a former racer who had scored two career Grand National wins and had a third taken away for an oversized fuel tank.
The Richmond restaurant owner was starting on Firestone tires - the only car in the field so shod. His Richmond car owner was the short track distributor for Firestone Late Model Sportsman and Modified tires. That Richmond restaurant owner raced strictly for fun, not for money. In fact, he used to put all of his winnings back into the cars of Junie Donlavey. On this day, he'd help out last place starter Frank Warren by placing the name of one of his 3 Richmond restaurants - The Hut - on Warren's rear quarterpanels.
That restaurant owner from Richmond would teach the King about rubbing sheet metal as he bulled his way to the lead by turn one and would lead the first 70 laps.
The outside pole sitter wasn't the only Richmond 45-year-old in the field. Another -nicknamed "Mr. Modified" - had been selected to wheel the famed red/orange K & K Insurance Dodge in its return to NASCAR racing. This driver was later named one of NASCAR's "50 Greatest" and is considered the winningest driver in NASCAR history.
On this great day for Virginia weekly short track racers, 6 more Virginians would start the Henry County event.
Several of those weekly Virginia drivers had great nicknames. Among them were "The Ferrum Flash" - "Satch" - "Pee Wee" and "The Virginia Gentleman." The other two weekly Virginia racers in the field that day were the previous year's Winston Cup Rookie of the Year and a youngster who started driving in the old Grand American division while in college. He still didn't look like he shaved.
All told, Virginia weekly short track heroes made up 27% of the field that sunny afternoon - 8 Virginia local drivers in the 30 car field. It didn't get any better than that for a Virginia race fan.
Surprisingly, when the checkers fell, the winner was a rookie from another country. It wasn't Daniel Suarez, Pedro Rodriquez, Jackie Oliver or Frog Fagan. Rubbing salt in the wounds of the good ole boys, this rookie foreigner was also sponsored by a foreign beer. What a disaster!
It is simply wonderful to listen to the starting lineup as read by Ken Squier on the MRN broadcast. We are actually told something about each driver and even car owners. There is great pit reporting from an old friend, the late Charlie Harville and Barney Hall in turn one. Back then, Martinsville's radio booth was located coming out of turn 4, so Squier could double as turn 3-4 reporter.
I love hearing the local track announcer - known far and wide as "The Mouth of the South" in the background. You didn't even need to eat a hotdog back then to know where you were at. Hearing that booming voice coming from the now gone pit road pagoda told you the track location immediately.
Wanna hear a great race broadcast? Wanna hear the cars fire up? Be sure to turn up your volume. Wanna hear what it was like 43 years ago this September? Just click on the link and the broadcast should start. No grainy video to bother you. Just old fashioned race announcing. Enjoy one of my favorite races ever by clicking the link. If necessary, you can cut and paste the link to listen.