Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Talladega Memories - 1992 Winston 500

1992 was a watershed year for me in terms of Cup races. I went to my first Cup race in 1978, and I only got to attend 1-3 races per year over the next few years. But 1992 was a special year. It was the King's last year. I ended up going to 6 races that year - 2 Degas, 2 at Atlanta, spring in Bristol, July 4th in Daytona, and fall in Charlotte. I wanted to go to as many as possible, and to see 6 of Richard Petty's final 30+ races was pretty special.

One of those special races was the 1992 Winston 500 in May. I must confess my memories of that weekend are a bit fuzzy - yet they remain memorable. A friend of mine was a big Bill Elliott fan. He lived in Georgia, and he loved Coors beer - so Elliott was a natural for him once he started watching NASCAR.

In 1992, Elliott jumped brew brands. He left Melling Racing and joined forces with Junior Johnson and Budweiser. My friend was beside himself because he hated Bud - yet he planned to force himself to drink Bud simply out of allegiance to his favorite driver.

Our tradition in those days was to camp in the wooded area behind turn 2. In the prior 2 or 3 years, we had a handful of us camping and I figured the same would be true in 1992. My Elliott friend planned to camp with us. As a set-up, a fellow Bud-drinking friend of mine and I told him we'd cover all the beer for the weekend. As a protest against Elliott, we bought every cheap beer we could find but didn't take one single Budweiser. We took such award winning swill as Keystone, Milwaukee's Best, Old Milwaukee, PBR, Natty Light, and Schaefer.

As it turns out, our Awful Bill fan didn't show until Sunday morning, and the rest of our race crew didn't attend at all. So two of us were left with the task of downing all that wonderful mixture of hops, barley, CO2, and whatever other mess they put in those cans. And we did. We consumed it...
  • at the Saturday ARCA race without sunscreen or water,
  • at the camp area as we grilled steaks and dogs (including one we rescued after it fell from the grill to the dirt),
  • as we stupidly started a fire right under a tree canopy (fortunately we weren't arrested by Smokey Bear or the Alabama State Police), and
  • as we sang 'Roxanne' way way way off key.
When Sunday morning arrived, our Bud friend rolled in & kicked our tent. He was bent because we weren't in line yet to get our race-day back stretch tickets. Somehow I found a remaining amount of internal energy (beer carbs converted to sugar?) to get out of my tent and walk to the ticket booth and our planned sitting area on the grassy bank...barefooted...wearing only a pair of gym shorts...with uncombed hair or brushed teeth...dehydrated....sunburned...and dragging my lawn chair in the dirt. I felt like all the dirt on that ground was in my hair, gums, ears, pores, and lungs. Even the sunscreen trailer guy piled on - "Hey man, you better put some Banana Boat on that fair skin of yours!" Gee, thanks for the advice dude.

But once we made it back to our camp and I had some breakfast and coffee, I began to feel better. By race time, I began my slow but progressive rebound. I downed a couple of the few Schaefers that lived through the night and it was again "game on!". I was ready for those 4 most famous words in motorsports - "SHOW US YOUR TI..." No, no - the OTHER most famous ones "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

That day's race was won by Davey Allison, the progeny of the state's hero, Bobby Allison. This was my 2nd time to see Davey win this race - the other coming in the 1987 version for his first career win.

During the race, what I remember most vividly is the sight of Mr. Excitement, Jimmy Spencer, flying by us in his Travis Carter Moly Black Gold #98 Chevy. We didn't see how he got sideways, but once he did he flew by us with his nose perpendicular to the ground. Once it landed, we just knew barrel rolls were imminent. Instead, the car sat down on all 4 tires & away he drove. It was a wild ride that got a standing O from all on the backstretch.

I remember listening to Jimmy on Eli Gold's MRN NASCAR Live radio show the following Tuesday. Jimmy was a guest, and Eli asked him "what goes through your mind while something like that is happening?" Jimmy's response was classic. He said something to the effect of "I distinctly remember pumping the brake pedal and realizing it wasn't doing any good."

A couple of days after the race, my Sunday hangover returned - bad. I felt rotten, and I couldn't eat anything. I finally relented and went to the doctor. After a series of questions with dead-end answers, he asked me if I had eaten any bad foods lately. When I responded with "you mean, like several hot dogs, a few bags of Doritos and Funyuns, a couple of boxes of girl scout cookies, a 6 pack of Mello Yello, sitting 2 days in the heat without clear water, and about 2 cases of low grade beer?", his face quivered and he clicked his pen. He quickly diagnosed me with gastritis, and I heard him dictate to his recorder that I had been 'dietarily indiscrete'.

That whole weekend was a blast though. Today? Fuhgetaboutit - couldn't do it (although I gave it a reasonable try at Bristol last month). The one tradition that did begin that weekend, however, was the celebratory downing of a Schaefer to open a race weekend. For some 40 races or so I've attended since the 1992 spring Dega race, the partying offically begins ONLY after everyone around pounds 12 ounces of F.M. Schaefer's proud brew.



1 comment: