As I continue this little stroll down memory lane, I want to take a moment to comment on some of the comments from yesterday.
A couple of readers, who called themselves Todd and Mike, so I will too, said the REAL FUN in NASCAR was back in the days of yore when the likes of Tiny Lund, Joe Weatherly, Rex White, Tim Pistone and others graced the ovals with their presence and their well-known antics. As Todd said; “…fun in 2004? Try fun since I started in 1965. Now that was fun!”
Well Todd, I must admit that I have a bit of a memory block when it comes to 1965. I too started in ’65 but that’s just it… I STARTED! You see, I was born in March of that year and was a bit busy trying to figure out just what in the hell these two people who were carrying me around all the time had gotten me into! In fact, I started the day after Junior Johnson scored his 39th NASCAR victory, but like I said, I was a bit busy at the time to notice.
Speaking of Junior’s 39th victory, with the inception of this column, I included a short bio of myself that used to run at the end of each article. I made it trivia contest of sorts, listing various drivers’ achievements in lieu of actual dates. The contest was that if anyone would email me with the correct dates, I would send them a slightly used, autographed beverage coaster from the Finish Line Bar and Grill. The idea was to get people to look into the history of NASCAR a little bit and at the same time, get a totally worthless trinket for doing so.
Believe it or not, over the life of this column, I have sent out about 50, each one dried out thoroughly before shipping! After the demise of the tavern, I had to modify the prize a bit seeing as how my supply of free coasters was no longer available, but I do still, to this day, keep on hand some totally worthless, albeit pretty nifty, NASCAR beverage coasters to send out that I purchased on eBay, should the need arise.
The most costly mistake I ever made as a writer also involved NASCAR and that damned tavern. You see, I once wrote that if anyone ever wanted to venture out and join our secret Sunday gatherings in person, I would buy them beverages for the duration… oops!
One Sunday, about 15 minutes before the green flag flew, I got a call from the owner of the bar informing me that some people were there looking for me! Normally that would be a sure sign for me to stay away as those types of people usually carry guns and badges, but when he said they were fans of Frontstretch, my tensions eased and I hit my (then) wife up for more cash and headed out.
As it turns out, “the people” were a group of four that had traveled about an hour and a half, probably not so much to meet me but to see if they could really score some free drinks. They were not disappointed and in the end, I gained some lifelong NASCAR friends. (I did get even though a few months later when they invited me to THEIR home for a party and I actually showed up!)
2004 was also the first year of the Chase, Brian France’s brilliant idea of becoming more like the NFL. During that year, fans were bombarded with statistics about who needed to do what to get into that first playoff battle and proved that way too many people had way to much time on their hands that they actually sat and figured out such stuff. As the cutoff drew nearer, I decided that my readers deserved the same from me and I broke it down for them as such:
OK folks, here it is. The Chase for the Championship (or in reality, 10th place) explained in such a manner that even Ward Burton couldn’t make clearer.
Jimmie Johnson, Jeffy, Junior, Smoke, Matthew and Elliott (if he starts) are in. After that, we got some ‘splaining to do.
Mark Martin has to lose 24 pts or less to five contenders OR beat Johnson by 24, lose 35 or less to Gordon and 101 or less to Junior AND take six viagra.
Jamie McMurray must gain 25 on 10th, explain who’s on first and jump through a hoop whilst whistling the Star-Spangled Banner for his wild card spot.
Bobby Labonte must gain 36 pts on 10th, quit calling Fatback for advice and lose 56 points or less to Junior OR beat Jimmie Gordon by 70.
Dale Jarrett just better drive his little brown ass off and get in. Go DJ!
Jeremy Mayfield must gain 55 on 10th OR beat Jeff Johnson by 108 while wearing octane 95 AND give me that chick’s number.
Kevin Harvick must first work in the yard, pick up the dog doo and hope that it’s hard and beat Ricky Craven at a game of Twister UNLESS hurricane Ivan sweeps in and loses to Dale Earnhardt Jr. by no less than 125 mph (sustained).
Or something like that. If that doesn’t make it all as clear as Jagermeister, I don’t know what will.
Of course, we now have 12 spots to contend for in the Chase and after the initial headache from my first attempt to explain it all wore off, I never attempted it again. Sort of a “Doc, it hurts when I do this”… “Well, don’t DO that!” approach! At least the announcers have stopped saying “If the Chase started right now, so and so would be in…” after every lap of every race the last couple of years. Gawd, that annoyed me!
Another stupid incident that I had fun writing about in 2004 was the flap over winning drivers knocking off competing sponsors products from atop their cars in victory lane. NASCAR’s Mike Helton laid down the law:
“We know how important it is for our competitors to celebrate their victories and share their happiness with the fans. But we also want our competitors to be mindful of the importance of protocol involving victory lane, which is as much a part of racing as taking the checkered flag,” said Helton. “This situation is now behind us. Moving forward, we are confident all our teams will respect and respond appropriately to time-honored post-race protocol during their celebrations.”
As always, I tried to remind the average Joe out there that NASCAR was full of:
Bullfeathers! This whole victory lane flap is about DOLLARS! There used to be a time when it was all about the racing and the winning driver, but that was long ago. Now it is strictly for some STUPID PRODUCT to get seen JUST ONE MORE TIME to persuade THAT LAST STUPID CONSUMER to run out and BUY NOW BUY NOW BUY NOW BUY NOW BUY NOW (a little subliminal stuff for ya!)
By NASCAR’s own admission, and I quote from NASCAR.com…
“Although there is nothing in the rulebook addressing what drivers are required to do, the entire celebration is a made-for-TV choreographed moment in which a driver is told to sit inside his car until the cameras are live so viewers at home can see their reaction when they climb out.”
I guess being pissed to see a competitor’s product on top of your racecar is NOT the reaction NASCAR wanted the viewers to see. So much for a “time-honored post-race protocol! Time honored post-race protocol is kissing one of the Winston Girls… which eventually leads to another time-honored tradition… divorce and loss of millions. Just ask Jeff Gordon.
Being a NASCAR journalist isn’t just about writing about what happens ON the track, heck there are thousands out there every week each with a different (or same) view on any particular incident on any given week. No, a good journalist will help the reader understand what happens AROUND the track also. From the time I didn’t find my way back to the camper for over a day in the Chicagoland infield to the first time I was ‘flashed’ at a race, in of all places, St. Louis, when a buddy and I attended a (then) Busch race there…
It was the first time my buddy and I didn’t bring a large cooler with us to a race. We had a small cooler capable of holding six standard beverages. This was an oversight on our part due mainly to the fact we thought we would be returning to Iowa the same evening. We thought wrong. Thankfully, because of the VERY reasonable ticket prices, we had no problem purchasing additional beverages on site. The small cooler also produced another ‘first’ for me, which I will expound upon in a moment.
I received my first NASCAR ‘flash’ at, of all places, a Busch race in St. Louis! I’ve been going to Bristol for three years now but have never been flashed. It finally happens in St Louis, and I didn’t even ask for it! Due to our small cooler and lack of beverages, I approached a trio of young ladies holding a cooler, struck up a conversation and asked if they might have a couple of extra beverages we could relieve them of.
We offered to pay, but they would not accept our money. I graciously thanked them and continued to chat a little. After I told them to check out a REALLY cool racing website called Frontstretch, we said our goodbyes and started on our separate ways. Suddenly, one of them turned back, raised her shirt and flashed me! I graciously thanked them again.
Last Saturday was also the first time a folding chair, left unattended and to its own devices, followed me through a parking lot. It turned out to be quite the blessing, as we met a group of hardcore tailgaters in said parking lot and the chair politely let me sit on it as we introduced ourselves. As luck would have it, these jovial fellows also had a couple of extra beverages that no one was using. They too refused our offerings of cash. What a swell bunch of guys! I love race fans.
Things become a bit distant after that, but that orphaned chair must have really liked me because it followed me all the way back to Iowa. It is a nice chair, in a plain sort of way, and after a long conversation with it, it has vowed to follow me to all future NASCAR events that I attend. Ya gotta like that in a chair!
Now I can tell you for a fact that I honestly have no clue what that young lady looked like and I wouldn’t know her if I met her on the street today, I do however, still have the chair and it HAS gone with me to every race where camping, tailgating or partying may be involved and I do still converse with it on a regular basis. What else but NASCAR can bring about lasting relationships like that?
Little did I know it at the time, but St. Louis has become a very special track for me. You see, my (then) wife was never much of a NASCAR fan and never attended a race with me. A few years ago we split up. Luckily for me, my name is Jeff Meyer and she was never a Winston Girl, and I was able to retain my millions (of debt) unlike Jeff Gordon. However, the St. Louis race IS the first track at which I attended a race as a ‘couple’ with my new girlfriend! Since then, the trip to St. Louis has been an annual event and thankfully I have not run into that girl with the extra beverages from 2004!
As I looked back through the ’04 archives, I found some interesting quotes from a couple of veteran drivers that I found quite amusing and there publication (and my response) bears repeating.
“If Rusty does stick his finger up [Stewart’s] butt, then so be it. I don’t need to know what happens. They’ll get it worked out.” – Bobby Labonte
Kinda reminds me of the old joke about the constipated mathematician! (He finally worked it out with a pencil…)
While I don’t specifically remember the incident that prompted those quotes, I did find Tony’s version of what happened and as you can tell by my response at the time, his case didn’t hold water.
“We came off [turn] 2 and we got together and that put him in the wall, but the corner before that he drove right down into the left side of us like we weren’t even there. So, I don’t know why he’s pointing the finger at somebody else.” – Tony Stewart on Rusty Wallace
OK, maybe I’m missing something here Mr. Stewart. If the defendant (Mr. Wallace) “drove right down” into you in turn 1 as you say, how did he hit the LEFT side of your car? Wouldn’t he have hit the RIGHT side? To hit the left side he (Wallace) would’ve had to come UP into you. Or are we talking about your OTHER left side…? Until other evidence surfaces, this case is dismissed. (Wham!)
No other evidence ever did surface, nor did any proof of whether or not Rusty ever did give Tony a ‘stinky finger.’
Another quote from an old veteran back in ’04 arguably has proven to be somewhat prophetic.
“If there was 100 people giving me pressure, now there’s 100,000 giving him. I think the problem with Dale was, his father was killed. These people up here didn’t have time to deal with it. These people are still mourning in a lot of ways. Maybe it’s a Southern thing. Southern people don’t get over it that quick.” – Kyle Petty on Earnhardt Jr. and the expectations of having a legendary father
Five years later, people are still wondering about Dale Jr., not that I am going to pass judgment one way or another.
Remember yesterday when I said I caught lots of flak for giving the ‘Dega fans two thumbs up for pelting the track with beer cans? Well here is proof that I did take those comments seriously and even experimented with their suggestions.
I wasn’t at Talledega, but I did have one person write me to say that I had my head up my (ahem) rear end for giving the Talledega fans two thumbs up in an article I wrote after the incident. Remembering back to the tornado drills we had in grade school, where we sat in the halls with our head between our knees, I decided to experiment.
After repeated attempts, I can assure you that the fans in question DID NOT have their heads up their rear ends! It is impossible to throw ANYTHING with your head up your…
Yeah, writing about NASCAR back then just seemed a bit more fun. Who knows, maybe it will once again become that way. Or maybe, just maybe, a theory that I purposed back then truly has taken place…
There is a theory that states: If anyone ever figures out exactly WHY the sanctioning body of NASCAR exists and WHAT it is for, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory that states that this has already happened.
(Thanks in part to the late Douglas Adams for that one. Hitchhikers know what I’m talking about. The rest of you look him up on Amazon.com)
We may never know!
Stay off the wall!
About the author
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.