That is the name of a song played usually around Christmas, is it not? If not so, forgive me for it is not my intention to construe "flirting" with the use of "Baby". But that song came to mind as I came in from church a short while ago. It is/was cold. 33 degrees at just past noon. But it was 21 when I went out to get the paper this morning. Just too cold for this heat loving old man. But, as I came in and sat down to write the Legendtorial, warmer thoughts came to mind as I thought back over what Januarys were like so many years ago.
Do you remember when the season started at that 9-turn road course in Riverside, California? Do you remember how that interloping Dan Gurney would win like the first four events there before someone could dethrone him? Remember, back in the sixties, when we were lucky to find the race broadcast on the local A.M. radio station? The F.C.C. had rules then that the radio stations had to lower they wattage output at sunset for reasons my simple mind still doesn't comprehend, but that meant catching the last half of the race from California involved listening to so much static that it was difficult to tell exactly which driver was leading and who was out of the race. But, no matter the weather in South Carolina, back then was usually cold in January, and we all had the belief that the weather in California was always sunny, warm, and beautiful.
Did any of you think it was unfair that the sport born and raised in the Southeastern United States would start its season on the West Coast? Do you remember that for a number of years it ended there as well, first at Riverside and then at Ontario, which was an oval, not a road course. Back in those days, it didn't bother me. As long as NASCAR was racing and even listening on a static filled A.M. radio, I was in my element.
Three thoughts come to mind this afternoon. First up is wishing it would get a little warmer a little faster than the weatherman is calling for. (Hear that Alex?). Secondly, I rather wish the season still started in January as January is such an anti-climatic month. In my world, Thanksgiving starts the holiday season, which ends on Christmas Day. I don't especially consider New Year's Day as a viable holiday. The New Year kicks off and television stations change their schedules, at least the ones I watch, and everything seems to be struggling to be new and different. While anticipating things cranking up in Daytona in a matter of days, it is still a bleak coldness about January for a race fan like me.
The third thought goes back to Riverside and how I loved the thought of racing on a road course. The first time I remember seeing any race footage from Riverside was in the Movie "Red Line 7000". I was fascinated by the way, at how the drivers whipped those cars around those twisting turns, sometimes taking them through the dirt, but it was a different type racing I liked from the start. I had attended the November 1963, Augusta 510 at the 3 mile road course in Augusta, Georgia. It was different as most of those turns were banked a little and being able to see only small parts of the track at one time from our infield hiking, we were missing some action I wish I could have seen from high above that speedway.
I still enjoy road course racing, the two times a year NASCAR sees fit to run at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen. Even so, it is not the same as it was. Drivers don't seem to manhandle the cars through the turns, or exhibit any particularly special talent like Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, or A.J. Foyt. It took a few years for our NASCAR "round track boys" to get the hang of turning right and left. These days, with all the special cars for the road course, it seems it is more the car than the driver pushing to the front. Oh, we have some good ones these days, but the rarity of the talent is overshadowed by the money put into the special road course cars.
Although it's not NASCAR stock car racing, I have developed an interest in the 24 hours of Daytona. The racing is quite different, the cars are so different, and the names I'm trying to pronounce aren't Petty, Pearson, or Baker. The design of the cars, if you can really call them that, leaves little for kids to dream about for the future, because the future is here. Is anyone old enough to remember when G.M. would have the "Fisher Body Design Contests" back in the day? I remember entering that contest maybe two years while in high school. The cars I designed then, in the early sixties, resemble some of the cars in that twice around the clock contest. I never won by the way or just imagine what you may be driving.
I do sort of miss Riverside and lounging on my bed as a teen, listening to the broadcast and imagining how warm it must have been in California. I was listening that day in 1964 when Joe Weatherly crashed in turn 9. That was a huge blow to me because Joe had always been so good to me.
Riverside is a part of NASCAR history, not to be forgotten, if for no other reason than the contributions to the sport and for the loss of one of our best drivers that day in turn nine. The shame here, in my opinion, is that many have forgotten and the younger generation of fans, for the most part, never heard of the track or of some of the great drivers who ran there and won there. Now we are counting down the days until Daytona. Daytona, the magic tri-oval located in Florida. You would think being Florida, even February would be a warm race. Not always, believe me.
Don't ever forget those tracks of the past, or the men who drove cars, which required driver manhandling with no power steering and no power brakes, even more magnified by the Riverside Road Course. Gotta go. It's getting late in the broadcast and the static is already pretty bad.