Although the reference to a thundering dawn has been used many times by many folks, it was probably Rudyard Kipling who made that saying poignant in the last line of his poem "Mandalay". Indeed, I am guessing that there were many revelers from New Year's Eve who felt the dawn came up like thunder with quite a bit of lightening thrown in, on January 1. As usual, I am reaching for a connection here from one area of life to the area of life we all enjoy, that of being a race fan.
I have probably said this before in a Legendtorial, but my favorite part of the movie "Days of Thunder" is the beginning when the sun in rising on the Daytona infield and flags of every description are whipping in the wind as the dramatic music builds to a crescendo. So many years, I saw the dawn come up like thunder in Daytona, Darlington, Charlotte, Rockingham, and many other tracks as our motor home gang came to life and ventured outside before the sun would make its appearance from the east. We would gather around the long table set up outside and my mother would prepare the grits and eggs, orange juice and coffee. Other parties in our ensample of traveling gypsies would contribute fruit, pancakes, country ham, bacon, and anything else associated with breakfast. We had a great group meeting up with us at most races. Our little "circle the wagons" (motor homes) compound where we had our private nation of race fans. The sun would break the horizon and the gathering would begin. I rarely see a sunrise these days, but every time I do, I think of the opening of that movie and those infield days.
As our group awaited the start of the race, most times around noon or no later than 1:00 p.m. back then, we would stroll around the infield to check the sights and would eventually stop off behind the garage area where only the fence separated us from the cars. Although I had press credentials to enter the pits and garage, I reserved that adventure for when the others would be otherwise occupied so as not to hurt any feelings.
To say, "those were the days" will certainly bring good thoughts to my mind even if not followed by "our old LaSalle ran great". You Archie Bunker fans will get that one. But truly, those were the days where excitement was real, the air was electric every race day, and when the cars hit the track for the parade laps it was once more a thundering interruption to mundane day. The feelings inside us as we sat atop the motor home included excitement, or course, and satisfaction that we were exactly where we wanted to be, doing exactly what we wanted to do.
Over this past weekend, the dawn of a New Year came upon us like thunder. With all we have been through in 2016, most people could now wait to wipe the slate clean and start a New Year. While I do not make New Year's resolutions, I do resolve to try to be a better man each day than I was the day before. I have learned a lot about life in the past six months that I wish I had known 50 years ago, and I continue to learn every day, whether the dawn comes up like thunder or dawns upon us with gray and rainy skies.
The year 2017 brings us a new NASCAR season, a season with a new Cup sponsor as well as many questions about the survival of the sport. I think it was Bopper, on the last show a couple of weeks ago, who brought up the subject of television ratings being meaningless, although we have beaten that horse to death this year. They are meaningless because of folks watching on their phones, I-Pads and whatever. I had a long talk with a Tech guru (my grandson Michael) and he and his brothers watch almost everything either on their phone or on I-pad just as their friends do. That would certainly make a huge dent in television ratings so perhaps Brian France is right when he talks about NASCAR's digital market being off the scales. I don't know how he can be sure of that, but I am sure many people do that.
That does not explain the lack of fans in the stands of course. Much has been said about such a lack of fans due to the economy. Perhaps. NFL and Major League Baseball attendance is down so there may be some truth to that. I have been one of the most vocal antagonist of NASCAR and the fan count in the stands. At the same time, I haven't even ventured over to Darlington since 2003 and I would never miss a race there from 1957. Perhaps that will change this year. Perhaps I'll even attend an event in Charlotte.
When there is a race on TV, I watch. Sometimes I miss parts of races because grandsons have soccer games or whatever, but I always seem to watch. Racing was pumped into my veins in 1952 and my heart still beats with that rumple of a racing engine. I will no longer disparage NASCAR even if I don't agree with the Chase or several other options NASCAR chooses. It is my sport, and at its worse, it is better than anything else out there.
When the dawn comes up like thunder in a few weeks, even for the ARCA race, I will be watching. I will be anticipating a season of good competition and a return to some of the good things from the past. We've got some good young guns coming up who have already shown us extraordinary talent. So, as we anticipate the dawn of the 2017 season, we can already look down the road to the sunset on the season and realize we've made a lot of good memories along the way.