Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: Taking a Risk at Michigan…

Heard a lot of talk on the TV broadcast from Michigan, as well as in all the shows recapping the race, about crews taking the risk on fuel mileage.

Big deal. All they were worried about was finishing the race.

I gambled on fuel mileage once during a Cup race at Michigan and had a lot more to risk. Like getting home and to work the next morning.

When I was with ASA, we used to race at Berlin the night before both Cup races. Naturally, the thing to do was find a place to crash and head for MIS the next day. This may have been the same night we were looking for a place to sleep – Rusty Wallace said to go to the nearest motel, where he had some rooms reserved, and tell them we were with Wallace Racing. I heard later that my son and I got the last room and Rusty slept in the truck, but I’m not sure how true that is.

Anyway, I usually got over to MIS with enough cash left to buy gas for the trip home, with maybe some left over. NASCAR and MIS were cool about giving us pre-race pit credentials.

On this particular Sunday in 1984, the guys in charge of the Dow Chemical Suite behind pit road were nice enough to invite us up there with them for the race. That took care of the food and drink for the afternoon, plus it gave us a great place to watch the pit action and see what was happening on the TV broadcast. Things were going along quite well for us until we learned that Darrell Waltrip had a cracked windshield. This was while he was with Junior Johnson, and they were pitting just to our right.

A caution flag came out for some reason I don’t remember, and about that time one of the guys in the suite said, “That’s it for him. They can’t change a windshield and not lose a lap.”

Turned out this was one of those people who attended maybe two races a year and didn’t pay much attention to the sport otherwise. The friend who had invited us into the suite, who I’m sorry I only remember by his first name, which I think was Chuck, looked over at me and said, “Tell him, John.”

I just said, “Sure they can.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Naw, no problem for a good NASCAR crew.”

“How about you put your money where your mouth is? I’ve got $50 says they can’t do it.”

Well, here I am with my ego hung out to dry, just over $50 in my pocket, and all I’m thinking is how I’m going to have to hunt down Harry Hyde or DW to borrow the money for gas if this doesn’t work out. OK, I shake the guy’s hand, he lays a picture of U.S. Grant on the coffee table, and I put down a 20 and three 10s.

As the Budweiser car comes sailing down pit road, all I can think is, “Junior, please don’t screw this up.”

He didn’t screw it up, and they had DW back out on the track well before the pace car got back around.

OK, we’re fixed up on fuel for the ride home – until the guy says, “Double or nothing he doesn’t get back into the top five.”

This was just 50 laps into a 400-miler, and I couldn’t resist. I thought about the possibility that Darrell wouldn’t finish, and said, “I say he’ll get back in the top five at some point, not that he’ll finish in the top five.”

The guy didn’t even flinch, just said, “You’re on,” and slapped another $50 down on the pile I should have picked up.

I don’t remember how many laps it took Darrell to get back to the top-five spots, but it must have been somewhere after the halfway point. I didn’t say a word and the guy decided he’d had enough, just picked up the cash and handed it to me.

Long story short, I should have made him another double-or-nothing bet, because DW actually won that race.

Somebody was looking out for me that day, I suppose.

And no, I didn’t offer Junior a share of the winnings.

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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