by: Tim Leeming
Happy New Year folks! Yes, I know I’m a week late, but we weren’t here last week so I hope the belated wishes for each of you are accepted with the sincerity with which I offer them. After all, we survived the predicted Mayan end of the world, so now we are into a new year to await the next prediction of the end of civilization. Something to look forward to, huh?
I enjoyed the holiday season from Thanksgiving, to Christmas and on through the New Year, so much of which is the result of time with family, at least part of my family. Ann and I have a daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons about 10 miles from us and we hang out with them through the holidays. Our son, his wife, and three granddaughters live in New Hampshire so our visits with them over the holidays are by telephone. Nevertheless, they are as much in our hearts as those close in distance.
You know, as I sat here New Year’s Eve watching a college bowl game, the thought occurred to me as to what a complicated entity is humankind. Up to, and through Christmas Day, so much of the talk was of Christmases past and memories of our childhood Christmases, or that one very special Christmas. I have many such wonderful memories and I’m sure we all do. Christmas was a very special Day for my Daddy and I guess I inherited some of that specialness that makes that day one for memories.
Ann and I were, for the first time in 14 years, without a grandson, or grandsons, having a sleepover with us for the New Year’s Eve. Like so many others, we recalled the New Years of the past and remember first Andrew, then Sam, then Michael, trying so hard to stay awake until the ball dropped on television. I think Andrew and Sam made it the first time when they were each five. Michael, as I recall, made it at four years old but then he didn’t get up the next day until 10:00 a.m.
Much of the conversation during the week leading up to New Years, both with friends personally and certainly on the news, was recalling the past. The BIG events of 2012, the celebrities we lost in 2012, and a couple dozen other things for which 2012 will be remembered. It was all about the past.
The amazing thing to me, and I guess I’m just getting around to realizing this, is that on the morning of January 1st, it is all about the future. It is all about the New Year. It is all about what each of us are going to do differently to make ourselves a better person. Stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more, eat right, so on and on. Most everyone makes resolutions of some type. I don’t anymore, although I used to. Jeff Gilder doesn’t because, as he pointed out on Facebook, he is already perfect so there is nothing left to resolve! But the more I thought about the significance of January 1st, the more I realized that humans are always looking for that fresh start, that do-over. When I used to pitch the baseball to the grandsons, if they struck out, they always wanted that “do over” which I always allowed.
Think about this. When you wake in the morning, it will be a new DAY. January 9, 2013. Why not think about that as your fresh start? Why not think of each day as a fresh start, the beginning of a new adventure; the opportunity to be a better person than you were yesterday? That may sound a little too philosophical, but I like that idea. I think that will be my resolve for the rest of my life.
All of what I just said is only to point out that there is a new season starting this very week as NASCAR starts testing in Daytona. While most of us are excited about the new season, the new cars, and the potential of a return to somewhat the type racing to which we were first drawn, there are some of us who look back over the past years and know that it is from that past that we have built this kingdom.
Think back to the 1950s. There was NO Daytona, not until the end of the decade. Darlington was our ONLY Superspeedway, but the guys raced almost year ‘round up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest. The foundation was being laid for what was to come. Then, 1959, and Big Bill France had his dream realized with the first Daytona 500. Two and a half miles of beautiful, smooth asphalt with perfectly marked lanes around the turns. Five hundred miles, with not one caution flag, and a photo finish that took days to decide that Lee Petty had won in his Oldsmobile. Suddenly, NASCAR was thrust into the sports section of The New York Times and was gaining recognition as a sport after having been overlooked for so many years.
Think back to the 1960s. So many wonderful memories from those years, and some horrible tragedies that took so many fine drivers from us. But remember when Riverside, California hosted the January, usually first race of the season. Wasn’t that the Motor Trend 500? And remember that Dan Gurney guy? Gurney won like four of those 500s in a row and if you weren’t a fan of FoMoCo or the Wood Brothers, you were getting right sick of that. I do remember listening to those races on the old AM radio and because it would be getting dark here on the East Coast before the race was over, the end was always full of static and you had to listen closely to hear the final rundown.
When 1964 came around, Chrysler Corporation unleashed the Hemi and nothing could catch those cars at Daytona in February. That was the beginning of the whining from the Ford Camp, which resulted in the Hemi being banned in 1965 and Chrysler sitting out, which included my guy, the King.
I tried to become interested in drag racing and the 43Jr. Barracuda and my family and I went to several of those drag races and hung out with Richard, but after so many years of seeing many cars run for some distance, I just could not get into the quarter-mile spirit. Then the tragedy in Dallas, Georgia with the 43Jr. and both Richard and I were finished with that. (Editor’s note: The tragedy spoken of here refers to when Petty’s Hemi-engine Cuda veered off track and plunged into a crowd of spectators, injuring several and killing an 8-year old boy) Richard Petty never drag-raced again. The Cuda was taken behind the Petty shop and buried, as he never wanted to see that car again.) Gratefully, NASCAR relented and allowed the Mopars back, although in a limited capacity, for the end of the season. My guy was back on track and I was back in the infield.
Ah, the 1970s. The decade started with the Superbirds, Daytonas, Talladegas and Cyclones, and presented the NASCAR world with exotic vehicles. How I loved those winged cars! Then, 1979 and the live, flag-to-flag telecast of the Daytona 500 on CBS, on a day when most of the Northeast was housebound because of a huge snow storm. The exciting finish, the fight in turn three, and all the excitement stirred up that day began to put NASCAR on the big time sports scene for sure. I do remember there were 14 of us standing on top of my parents’ Motorhome, parked behind Victory Lane that day, and we were actually watching our guy (The King) dueling with D. W. for what we thought was going to be third place. That race was coming off turn two when someone yelled and pointed to turn three. We spun around just in time to see Cale and Donnie hit the wall. We spun back around to watch the duel between Richard and D.W. When number 43 took the checkers, we were jumping up and down and yelling so loud, we attracted the attention of the Orlando television station, which filmed our entire celebration. Not sure where that celebration ranks against the fight, but for us, it was big time.
Editor’s note: This is not the familiar Ken Squier call of the finish, but the MRN radio call, and it is fantastic!
Main booth – Jack Arute and Barney Hall
Turn One – Mike Joy
Backstretch – Gary Gerould
Turn Three – Eli Gold
The decade of the 80s is sort of foggy to me these days. Must be an age thing. I do recall, vividly, the Charlotte fiasco for Petty Enterprises with Richard being allowed to keep the win but Maurice being blamed for what he did with right side tires on the left, or vice versa, and an oversized engine. That was a black day for Petty Enterprises, Richard, Maurice and, in a different way, for me as well. Then came July, 1984, and The King wins number 200 with the President of the United States watching. I went out the next day and bought a bottle of Champagne and, with a Sharpie, wrote “for number 201” on the label. That champagne was not uncorked until the end of a long day at Atlanta Raceway on a November afternoon in 1992. I recall the one sip I took was bitter and I threw out the rest. Looking back, I suppose the bitterness was partly due to the retirement of MY driver, the guy I had pulled for since that July night in 1958 when he brought that Olds convertible for his first race. It seemed my life had been so intertwined with what Richard Petty did each week that the end of this career was causing ripples in my life which I had not expected. You know, I really have never gotten fully over that. I pull for whomever it is driving number 43, because that was, is, and always will be the King’s car and I was, am, and will always be a Richard Petty fan. Just remember, I knew him before he ever won the first race. Ask him some time. He’ll tell you I was the most aggravating fan he ever encountered because I was fortunate enough to make most of the races and I was always able to get to him because I figured out how to get Press Credentials, which allowed me access everywhere! Far different than the way things are today.
When the Century turned into the current 2000s, things started to change. I admit, when NASCAR took the Southern 500 from Darlington on Labor Day weekend, I couldn’t handle it. From 1957 on, I had been in that Labor Day crowd and before that, had sat on my Uncle Bobby’s front porch and listened to that race. I was convinced that NASCAR had turned its back on the fans that build the sport. Throughout the first decade of this new century, it seemed to me that NASCAR was so busy relieving itself of all the fans in my generation that it had no time for intelligent considerations. Even now, I’m not sure what direction NASCAR seeks to follow but I’m not sure those in charge know either. BUT, and this is huge, NASCAR has paid attention to some of the comments we make here on RacersReunion. I am impressed by the new cars for 2013 although I have no idea where the “Generation 6” designation was manufactured. The new cars look more like what we see in showrooms and that’s one thing many of us wanted. Dodge will be missing this year and that is sad… very sad…, but I hope that brand will return.
Unlike the Mayan Civilization, we don’t have the ability to know what this new year will bring, in our personal lives or in the racing world. We all have our hopes and dreams, and we all have our anticipation of a great season of racing in all the NASCAR Divisions. It is my wish that each of you will realize your dreams for this year and that the racing season will be the best in years. I predict there will be many great races this year and, unlike the Mayans, I think I’ll be pretty close to accurate on that.
So, as we look forward to a great year and a great season, let’s not forget to look back, not with sadness for what was, but with happiness that because of what was, we have the promise of good things to come. Remember, this year, to make several trips to Memory Lane Museum in Mooresville, NC, to relive the history of the sport as you can do nowhere else. Remember the events presented by the Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society, The Historic Speedway Group, The Middle Georgia Raceway Group, The Dawsonville Moonshine Festival, and, I hope The Columbia Speedway Group, all of which will give each of you the opportunity to meet and talk with the men and women you may only have read about. Believe me, you will come away from any of those events feeling as though you traveled Back to the Future in that Delorean with Marty McFly.
Happy New Year everyone. Remember, each day is a NEW day and a NEW adventure. It is what you make it so make it yours.
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(Editor’s note: Tim Leeming is a member of the regular cast of the Tuesday evening racing show “Racing Through History”, presented on Zeus Radio Network by RacersReunion®. Archives can be found by following the link. Live broadcasts can be heard from 7:00-9:00 PM every Tuesday. Please feel free to join us in the RacersReunion® Chat Room for the show.)