We settled onto the hard backless bench and watched the hobby stock division take to the track for some hot laps at Lee USA Speedway. New to this venue and some of the lower divisions running, we grinned at the aged Monte Carlos as they sort of drifted out of turn 4 and slid up toward the wall. During the 15 minutes allotted to the teams to shake out their cars before the heats began, it didn’t take much to sort out which drivers were here to fight and which were just here.
Most of the cars sported spots of primer, some decaled flames and the shadows of dents beaten out long ago. But one was particularly ugly. So much so you couldn’t help but point at the tortured machine. At some point in its past life a sunroof existed. Also, the phantom edging from a vinyl roof gave further proof of better days. On the freshly-painted white doors some electrical tape had been applied to represent the number 08. I shook my head and thought, “Poor thing.”
Despite bad paint jobs, you could tell the Monte Carlos would still beat out the few old-style Camaros when the laps counted. The boxy front end of the Montes managed to hold a more even keel as they came out of the turns and dove into the corners. The Camaros, well, their noses bobbed up and down like a Punch and Judy show. Even on a 0.375-mile bullring, you still need a little bit of handling to land you near victory lane.
And then our attention was diverted by a new arrival. All shiny, the No. 83 sparkled blue and grey under the cloudless April sky. It was almost as if angels sang as the last car of the group passed through the gate. I figured this must be the guy who always won every week.
The Monte Carlo body appeared flawless, the engine purred in a rather non-offensive manner and it strutted about the track, avoiding some of the scrappier entrants as they flexed their muscles. Smart driver, right? Then it seemed as if it didn’t seem to load quite as dramatically in the corners as the rest of the field. But as most of the other cars had retreated to the pits, I didn’t have an opportunity to compare speeds from the pretty car to the ugly cars, at least not yet.
In the heat race the No. 08 started mid-pack. But it didn’t take long for the blighted black & white car to nip at the heels of the leaders. Aggressive and yet possessing more than a few driving smarts, I suddenly began to understand what made this particular driver tick.
He wanted it. He led a hungry charge to the front. So hungry within just a few laps his tires started to squeal and then slip. The No. 08 nearly spun up into the wall and then promptly retired from the heat, limping back to the pits.
Meanwhile, that gorgeous No. 83 still tooled around the track, maintaining a neutral path right down the middle of the road. He kept the tail lights of his fellow competitors in view, but really didn’t make a serious attempt to reach those back bumpers. No squeal could be heard in the corners and his engine sounded rather like it was enjoying the Sunday drive.
So pretty and somehow I could suddenly see the same unblemished car appear at the end of the season, ready for its moment of fame. But would it still be waiting for that moment to arrive?
Which of these two machines did end up in victory lane on Sunday afternoon? The No. 08 rolled onto the track and led the hobby stocks to the green for their feature. He continued to run out front for much of the 25 laps and pulled his very ugly car down the frontstretch in order to receive his trophy.
The young man crawled from his vehicle and looked a bit surprised to see a microphone in his face. He quickly redonned his fire jacket (it was hot in there!) and tried to pull a few words together. Not particularly well-spoken he thanked his girlfriend, said something about being tired and then mentioned he’d been up with the team all night building a carburetor and finishing up the brand-new car.
My initial impression of the No. 08 vanished like a whiff of smoke, replaced by some serious respect for the young man who fought his way right to the top.
I can’t tell you where the pristine No. 83 finished the race, I was only aware it was nowhere near the leaders when the race came down to the nitty gritty. I don’t recall the blue and grey car causing a caution, either. It was almost as if he didn’t exist.
So often on Sundays we turn on the TV and shut our minds off as the endless miles of blinged-out Cup cars parade around the chosen field of competition. Every pit boasts a box that could double as a small condominium. Uniforms match. Money oozes out every pore of the venue; except for those few start-and-park teams that arrive in unmarked haulers and plant four tires in their pits just to keep the powers that be happy.
The lack of elegance indicates where we can expect that team to perform on any given Sunday.
In this circus of media-hyped glitz, how easy it is to forget the importance of desire and devotion when we sit in judgment of our favorite and not so favorite drivers. To dismiss gargantuan efforts when teams rebuild a demolished car and still manage to eke out those few so-needed points.
We expect the best, because the owners at the Cup level of our sport make sure we know they are here as the real deal. But how humbling it is to remember that not every swan started life with a silver spoon.
I don’t know the name of the young man in that ugly No. 08 – there was a distinct lack of programs and results available – but I’d like to. I’d like to thank him for reminding me all that glitters is not gold, and the next race I attend I’ll give the primer black beater a second glance before I dismiss it.
I hope you get the chance to visit your local track this year and have your own opportunity to discover some of that hidden treasure. The experience is always worth the trip!
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.
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