Legendtorial: Dodge ~ Gone With the Wind… by: Tim Leeming
Legendtorial: Dodge ~ Gone With the Wind
by: Tim Leeming
Several years ago, the Statler Brothers had a song called “Do You Remember These?”. As the verses rattled off item after item from the 50s, I could remember each one of the items named. These days, there are e-mail forwardings that provide pictures of things from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and the nostalgic response is requested as you view each picture. Again, I remember each and every one of the subjects of the pictures. It’s not that I have a photographic memory, or even an above average memory; it’s just that most of those things were a part of my life at some point. One such picture is the dinosaur on the Sinclair Gas Station signs. Yes, I remember that. There was a Sinclair station between where I lived and downtown, so every time my family traveled downtown we would pass that station. I sort of miss that old dinosaur but even more, I think, I miss the times my Dad would stop and we would get a Moon Pie and an R.C. Cola. Seriously!
Now, let me throw a few names at you and see how quickly your mind’s eye will call up a picture. Here goes: Packard, Hudson, Henry J., Willys, Nash, Studebaker, Edsel, Desoto. Because this show is Racin’ Through History and because MOST of that history includes me as a fan, no doubt all of you guess those were makes of cars. Those are makes of cars that actually raced in NASCAR, in what is now the Cup Division. Not included in that list are Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Plymouth, Mercury, Lincoln, T-Bird, Pontiac, all of which once raced for The Cup, but no longer. All of the cars mentioned in the first list are gone, no longer existing. Some of the cars in the second list are still around, but are no longer racing in NASCAR.
Did you know, that in the first NASCAR Strickly Stock race on June 19, 1949, on a Three Quarter Mile dirt track in Charlotte, North Carolina, 33 starters drove 8 different makes of cars, including Lincolns, Kaisers, Chryslers and Oldsmobiles. Did you know that in the very first Southern 500 at Darlington on September 4, 1950, there were 75 starters driving 11 different makes. The first Daytona 500 on February 22, 1959, started 59 cars, hardtops and convertibles, representing 11 different makes which still included Chrysler, Lincoln, Studebaker, Desoto and Edsel. How many of you can remember the musical advertisement “It’s Delightful, it’s delovely, it’s Desoto”! When I started researching this piece, that song began to play through my mind. When I read Edsel, I immediately jumped back to the Andy Griffith episode where Barney returns to Mayberry for the class reunion driving that Edsel Convertible.
Cars have always been a huge part of my life. My mother used to tell the story that when I was just a tiny kid, I had all kinds of toys my grandmother had bought me, but the only one I played with was a little plastic toy convertible car. Even now, I remember that blue plastic body with the wire wheels and the white plastic top you could actually lower. By the time I was just able to see over the car door and look out the window, I could tell each and every car we passed immediately, without looking at the nameplate.
I guess because my uncle Bobby, the man who got me interested in racing, was a big fan of the Mopar, I automatically thought the Mopars were the best! The first car I ever rode in over 100 mph was a 1957 Plymouth 2 door hardtop. The first car I drove over 100 mph was a 1959 Dodge convertible. Both of these cars belonged to Uncle Bobby. There was just nothing to compare to those Plymouths and Dodges. Everytime I watch the Beverly Hillbillies, the thing to which I pay the most attention is the always red Dodge convertible “Miss Jane” drives. I always thought that 1962 Dodge Convertible she drove was the car I most wanted. But, alas, I never got to meet Miss Jane nor drive her car. I did drive a 1962 Dodge once but it was a station wagon! Far cry from the red convertible I longed for.
I often think I pulled so hard for Richard Petty although years because he mostly drove Plymouths and Dodges, but when I think back to pulling for him from his first race, he was driving an Oldsmobile then. It just happened to become very convenient for me that my favorite driver drove my favorite brand of car. I think Frank Craig will agree with me that the 1964 Plymouth Fury Hemi was the most awesome car ever. I’ll never forget standing on that dirt hill in the infield at Daytona that cold February day watching the green flag fall on that field and Paul Goldsmith shoving that red Plymouth in front. About lap 7, I think, that Petty Blue number 43 went screaming by and on the way to victory. Now, Plymouth is no more. No longer made and, surprisingly to me, I rarely see one on the road although I do run across some beautiful ones in car shows. Time moves on, as they say, and unfortunately it moved on without the beloved “Mayflower”.
Now we are faced with the departure of Dodge from NASCAR. Roger Penske pulled the plug with Dodge and has decided to campaign Fords next year and Dodge announced that it is officially out of NASCAR. For me, and for many, this is a sad state of affairs. For all race fans, it SHOULD be a sad state of affairs. That reduces the NASCAR fields to three brands, Chevrolet, which seems to dominate, Fords and Toyotos. Realistically, most Ford engines come from Rousch-Fenway, Chevy from Hendrick and Toyotas seem to provide engines to their teams. All the cars look alike with the exception of headlight, taillights and grill decals put on when the cars are “wrapped”. There is no distinction. Put a car out there without sponsors or numbers and you can’t tell one from the other.
Remember that first race I talked about? The Strictly Stock race, which, incidentally was won by a Lincoln after the Ford was disqualified for having heavier springs than stock. Remember the 50s? 60s? 70? Even the 80s still had Fords looking like Fords and Chevys like Chevys even if the “stock” was far removed. Even then, the cars were mostly built from stock bodies and chassis where the people like Harry Hyde, Maurice Petty, Smokey Yunick, Bud Moore, and the Wood Brothers could make each one their own race winner. Remember back when a constant mantra repeated over and over by NASCAR was that racing stock cars improved the cars on the road? What was learned by racing led to numerous improvements in what Detroit offered for sale, both in performance and safety. When is the last time you heard any such speculation offered up by anyone?
My point here is that Dodge is leaving NASCAR. Brad Kesolowski has won three times this year and is poised to run for the Cup. The race at Watkins Glen Sunday provided one of the most thrilling finishes in recent NASCAR events and it was a Dodge involved. Only two Dodges running, one driven by Sam Hornish, who I believe is a good guy coming along in NASCAR but not yet “there”, and both finished in the top 10. Dodge was, is, and could remain a winner in the sport. So, why is Dodge leaving?
I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject and I certainly don’t hold stock in Dodge. And for those of you out there ready to pounce on me that Dodge is a division of Fiat Motor Company, I am aware of that too, but the question is, why is Dodge leaving NASCAR? Dodge was gone for a long time, came back with Ray Evernham, and has earned quite a number of wins and percentage wise for the number of Dodge entered, has been quite successful. Please allow me to give you my “take” on the situation, as a fan of NASCAR racing and of Dodge and the heritage of Chrysler Corporation through all those years.
The old slogan of “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” went out the window when all the cars became the same. What benefit was it for the winning car to carry to blue oval of Ford or the bowtie of Chevrolet when the manufactures could not realistically put a picture of their winning car in the showroom. Take the numbers off and the same car in the Chevy showroom could be the same car in the Ford Showroom or Dodge Showroom, or Toyota Showroom. Race fans know they are watching very highly specialty prepared cars, which are nothing like what they can even hope to ever own and don’t really even resemble what they can park in their driveway. Big Bill France made a big issue out of racing “stock cars” because people would come to watch races where they cars they drove to the track were basically the same cars racing ON the track. I realize times have changed and NASCAR has changed with the times, but not for the benefit of the fans, I don’t think, and certainly not for the benefit of the manufacturers. It’s just not the same.
NASCAR has played their hand. Remember the debacle of 1965 when they outlawed the Mopars and attendance was tragic? Darlington drew just over 11,000 people for the Southern 500 that year, which Ned Jarrett won by 14 laps in a Ford. The next year Ford pulled out over arguments for an engine they wanted approved but their pullout didn’t impact the sport as did the Mopar pull out, but it DID have an effect. In my opinion, NASCAR has played their hand with Dodge and now Dodge is gone. Fans are already staying home in droves and finding other things to watch on TV. I have already heard from several fans who say now that Dodge is gone, they are too. Don’t know how many will actually turn their backs, but NASCAR has got to wake up to the fact that the actions it has taken to remove the brand identity from the sport has hurt tremendously and now that one of those brands has chosen to cease spending money in the sport, it can only serve to further damage what is already perceived as a severe weakness in the awareness of NASCAR to the wants and needs of the fans.
So, goodbye Dodge. As Margaret Mitchell said about the antebellum South, Dodge is gone with the wind. Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn.
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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.)