Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year from SHOF and SROH!

Happy New Year!

Here's to reflecting on 2010 with experiences and memories such as:
  • Induction of Cuba as the newest member of the Schaefer Hall of Fame
  • The procurement of official Schaefer Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor shirts by Uncle D from Pabst Brewing.
  • Representation of the SHOF and SROH at NASCAR races including Vegas, Bristol, Charlotte, Daytona, Richmond, Michigan, Atlanta, and Sonoma.
  • Expansion of the SROH into locations such as Trenton, NJ; Bristol, TN; Georgia; and Pennsylvania.
  • Schaefer road trips to places such as San Antonio, Key West, New York City, Baltimore, a couple of beaches, classic car shows, East By Gum Newark NJ, and even a space shuttle launch!
Again, from the Schaefer Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor and us here at Bench Racing from the Volunteer State, may each of you have a wonderful and Schaefer-filled 2011!

If you are a SHOF or SROH member, keep submitting photos and stories of your Schaefer moments. As a primer reminder, here are a few slogans to keep in mind:
  • Schaefer, Schaefer, the one beer to have when you're having more than fun.
  • Schaefer...Its not just for racing anymore.
  • Schaefer...The king of yard beer.
Is it Daytona time yet?

TMC

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Schaefmas

The calendar has turned to December. The season of advent is almost complete. The anticipation. The build-up to Christmas. Believers and shoppers love this month. Atheists and political correctness junkies also crave this month to tear down the whole vibe of Christmas and introduce so much nonsense.

But what have I said before about one thing that unifies, strengthens relationships, starts and builds friendships, acts as a salve for tough times and as catalyst for a good time? Easy. Schaefer.

So hopefully you have procured yourself a 30 box, retrieved your ornaments...

...and then decorated your Christmas tree.

The Schaefer Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor members are always on their toes - regardless of the season. And the month of December has been no exception.

SROH'er Bruton celebrated the first weekend of December and the second weekend of Advent as we all should: Pancakes and a Schaefer!

Bruton also tipped me the Washington Huskies football team has a player named 'Schaefer'. In Googling a bit, I found out he is offensive lineman Drew Schaefer.

Oh the weather outside is frightful.
But the fire is so delightful. And since we've no place to go. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Bruton also claimed three-bean chili warms a soul on a cold December day when washed down with jalapenos and a Schaefer.

In December, SHOFer Rookie and wife/SROHer Erin said "Screw this cold weather, we're going to Key West baby!" So they did.

The incomparable songwriter, Guy Clark, penned Hemingway's Whiskey...



...but as for Rookie, he prefers Schaefer with his Hemingway.

So many double-entendres exist in this next photo that I don't even know where to begin.

Rookie would reveal which way he rolled clothing-wise at the Garden of Eden. But when it came to his brew of choice, there was only one option: Schaefer.

After a stint in the Keys, Rookie returned to the realities of winter in North Carolina. Yet he made sure to celebrate with a Schaef at the Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons game.

On behalf of fellow Schaefer Hall of Famers Philly, Rookie, Padook, Uncle D, and Cuba; the Schaefer Ring of Honor; and co-blogger banktruck, we wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and happy Schaefering.

TMC

Friday, December 17, 2010

Death of a Speedway

Last week, I volunteered a few hours at the Nashville fairgrounds to help homeless folks. The building I was in was immediately behind what remains of the now-closed Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

Auto racing has been in the Nashville area for the better part of the century, and the fairgrounds speedway footprint has been in the same location since the late 1950s. Many Saturday nights of my youth from around 9 to 18 were spent at the speedway primarily watching the local guys go door-to-door on the quarter-mile inner track as well as the larger .596 mile outer banked track. Occasionally, I was fortunate enough to see the Winston Cup Grand National drivers qualify. And in my later teens, I actually had enough money to watch the Cup guys race.

But over the last 15 to 18 months or so, the writing has been on the wall. The current mayor of Nashville is done with the track. He wants to reclaim the whole fairgrounds and do something else with it - such as spend tax dollars the city doesn't have to build a park few will use. Until recently, he couldn't say what he wanted to put there - just that it had to go. Many thought the speedway was dead and gone this time a year ago. Because the city couldn't get its ducks in a row, the track lived to see another season - albeit an abbreviated one with low attendance.

After my service session ended, I walked to the track to take in the view of what is pretty well now known as a dead speedway. The weather was typical for a middle Tennessee mid-December afternoon - cold, dreary, overcast. A pretty good metaphor for for what I found.

Turns 1 and 2 - In the 1970s, my family and I always sat in the lower bleachers half-way down the frontstretch headed towards turn 1 - right below the hand railing shown in the picture.

In June 1978 after the Music City 420 - my first Cup race to attend - I had my picture taken by the famed 43 Dodge Magnum of the King. The Petty Enterprises "hauler" was parked right near the break in the white wall leading to the lower parking area in the above picture.

In the mid 70s, the drivers to watch at Nashville were known as the Young Guns:
  • Coo Coo Marlin's son, Sterling.
  • Mike Alexander, son of R.C. Alexander - a middle Tennessee car dealer and car owner for a Nashville driver who made the big time: Darrell Waltrip.
  • P.B. Crowell III
  • Dennis Wiser
Here is a picture of Sterling and Mike barreling through turn 1.

Turn 4 - While the size and sponsor of the scoreboard has changed a bit over the years, its location and information hasn't. All the speedway ever had that I recall is a lap count and the top 4 positions, and the board was always overlooking turn 3. Lots of times, however, many of the bulbs were burned out. Spectators often thought they were trying to cipher Morse code vs. seeing the car numbers of the front runners.

Here is Sterling in his Coors Light-sponsored Grand American late model Firebird in the early 80s rolling through turn 4. Yes, he had a sponsor relationship with Coors Light many years before reuniting with them on his #40 SABCO Racing Cup car.

The now-dormant souvenir stand.

My aunt bought me this 8x10 photo of Richard and Kyle Petty at this stand in 1978.

The start-finish line. Its in pretty good shape for now. But a Tennessee winter and no additional TLC will likely weather it good by spring. By then, I'm guessing the bulldozers will rumble in and ruin it for good.

One driver who was as familiar as anyone with the start-finish line was Maurice Hassey. He dominated the mini-stock series in the mid-1970s winning in his yellow #62 car just about every Saturday. As I recall, his day job was working for the Nashville Fire Department. Not sure why I remember that...

Here is a view of the inner quarter-mile track where I used to watch Hassey dominate the mini-stock series and Sonny Upchurch run wild in Tony Formosa Sr.'s limited sportsman class Ford.

Before a formal, traditional pit road was built as a demand from NASCAR, the Cup cars used to make their pit stops by crossing the start-finish line, turning left onto the quarter-mile track, pitting wherever they could pull off the track surface, re-crossing the start-finish line, and heading back to turn 1. A real safety and scoring nightmare - but it certainly was a novelty aspect of the track.

A few other random memories of nights at the speedway include:
  • The Joie Chitwood Thrill Show
  • Having a friend win a bicycle from the track his first time going to the races with us. I'd been 3-4 years steady and never won one. Envy? Jealousy? They raged.
  • Covering my eyes as some knucklehead, sideshow guy supposedly blew himself up in a pine box using dynamite. Pretty frightening stuff for a 10 year-old.
  • A precision driving team sponsored by Uniroyal tires. The three drivers were lamely nicknamed Uni, Roy, and Al. I have a photo of them somewhere around the house.
  • Watching Neil Bonnett win his first career Winston Cup pole driving in relief for his injured mentor, Bobby Allison.
  • Seeing the day-glo red and electric Petty blue live on the 43 for the first time ever on the King's 1974 Dodge Charger. The car's design was way ahead of its time as its colors never popped on the television screens of that era.
  • Allowing race winner Cale Yarborough to walk by me without my asking him for an autograph. I couldn't stand Cale in those days. Seeing how he whipped the field that night, I certainly didn't want the time of day from the driver who beat the King.
  • Seeing competitors and friends Mike Alexander and P.B. Crowell III crash each other in turn 1 in a late model race. Both were injured and missed several races.
  • Watching in awe as an ARCA driver hauled it off in turn one, wreck, launch the wall, and completely rip down the advertising signage board lining the track.
  • Roaming freely with my autograph book in the early 1980s and meeting almost the whole field of Cup drivers. I then moseyed over to the late model "garage" area (such that it was) to watch the Alexander and Marlin teams prepare their cars. CooCoo invited me to sit up in the back of their truck a few minutes as Sterling's team continued their efforts. Looking back - it was probably for my own safety. But I thought I was part of the team!
  • Watching my dad pull for Harry Gant and Butch Lindley when the national late model sportsman series came to town. My dad doesn't get excited about a lot of things, but he always enjoyed watching the two of them race.
  • Getting to see what could have been a future star, Adam Petty, race in the 1999 BellSouth 320 Busch race. I think that may have been the only opportunity I had to see him race in person.
  • Seeing Sterling Marlin race a Tennessee Vols football national champion Busch car - a pretty novel paint scheme that year.
Throughout 2010, former drivers such as Sterling and Darrell Waltrip have appealed to the major to keep the track around. And in recent weeks, country music insider and former Cup owner and sponsor, Mike Curb, has tried to do the same. But this mayor's jaw is set and his decision appears to be final. So I think its too little too late.

Goodbye friend. It was a great ride. The speedway may be dead, but my memories are still very much alive.

Whether you are like me and spent several nights watching races at Nashville or are someone who simply has a fondness for the races of that era, check out Nashville420.com. The site is owned and maintained by Jeff Droke, a long-time fan of Nashville and crewman for past...and now present...driver James Hylton.

TMC

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Another chapter of Richard Petty Motorsports

Earlier this week, an announcement was made Richard Petty Motorsports had restructured its ownership. The announcement is a remarkable one that hopefully puts an end to the tumultuous 6 weeks or so the team went through at the end of the season. Kasey Kahne was cut loose, Paul Menard announced he and daddy's money were headed to be a red-headed stepchild at RCR, Roush locked up cars and parts until checks could clear, etc. Apparently, RPM was truly at the end of their rope with the sobering reality the team - including Richard F'n Petty and the 43 - could have been gone for good.

Instead, the King and his Court put together a Hail Mary, full-court-press, 2-minute-drill restructuring together, and a smaller version of the team will now live to see another season.

Going out:
  • Majority owner...debtor George Gillet
  • His flunky Where's Waldo looking son Foster
  • Evernham Motorsports founder, RPM minority owner, and I-know-nushing | non-compete-agreement-bound | shag the help | ESPN announcer Ray Evernham.
  • Minority owner venture capital entity Boston Ventures
Coming in:
  • Doug Bergeron via DGB Investments - an investment vehicle founded by the CEO of VeriFone Systems (created via a spin-off from Hewlett Packard)
  • Andrew Murstein, President of Medallion Financial - a publicly-traded financing company who built its initial wealth by leasing taxi 'medallions' to NYC cabbies - an extremely lucrative situation for what started as a family business
The constant between the shifts in equity investors? The King. From things I've read, he's gone from a 4% owner and non-controlling interest in the old business to a 33% interest and the Mack Daddy, I'm-in-charge role in the restructured deal.

Why a 73 year-old man has chosen to put his chips all-in yet again is beyond me. The era we're in (and have been for the last 10-12 years) is Big Boy Money time. Hendrick, Roush, Childress, Gibbs. They have it. Others don't. Plus, let's face it. As big a fan of RP as I am, he didn't exactly lead the former Petty Enterprises team to the promised land once he left the driver's seat to settle into an owner's role.

Richard has earned the right to retire to the porch, fix himself a mayonnaise sammich, pop the lid on a bottle of Pepsi, use it to wash down a Goody's powder, and nap a while until the chime strikes on one his many Martinsville grandfather clocks. But that's not the King. He races. Always has. Always will. They'll carry the guy out feet first before he concedes his rightful place at the tracks.

Assuming the transaction has been or will be finalized, it'll be a comforting off-season to this Petty fan knowing the 43 will be at the beach in February. Where Richard goes from there though is a big mystery to me. He's my hero - and I know he won't be around forever. Who gets his stake and keeps the King brand alive and stoked? Dunno. His wife, Kyle, his sisters, and his grandchildren don't seem to be logical choices. Nor does Dale Inman. Robbie Loomis? Perhaps - but he's a manager, shop guy, car man, an offensive coordinator in football vernacular, etc. He isn't a logical choice to be the figurehead owner of a team much less the guy with financial backing.

But the King and his new partners will figure it out. For now, the King is racing again. He'll face the media regularly - except this time he'll get to respond to HIS decisions again vs. those made by the Gilletts. He'll keep alive the Petty name in the sport that dates back to the first NASCAR race.

...when his dad Lee Petty started Lee Petty Engineering (later shortened to just Petty Engineering)...

To the renaming of the company as Petty Enterprises in 1969...

To the introduction of a more contemporary logo for the company and its subsequent sale to Boston Ventures...

To the merger of Petty Enterprises into Gillett Evernham Motorsports where GEM was actually just a lump of coal and the King nothing more than a 4% owner and branding figurehead...

To now this week's news the King has now resumed his rightful place on the Petty throne.

One question some of us Petty fans have now is whether the 43 may sport the colors of a NYC taxi - especially with the investment by Murstein. For decades, outsiders have derisively referred to NASCAR race cars as taxi cabs. Perhaps now its time for the sport to turn the negative into a positive. Can you say Watkins Glen? Inquiring minds want to know. If so, perhaps the Ford will look something like this:

Props for artwork to my fellow Petty fan: Stimlad

Now that the restructuring has been announced, I guess an idea of mine from a few weeks ago is no longer valid. I was kind of hoping the King would take his money, "Richard Petty" brand and Ford relationship and merge it with the single-car team of another legendary NASCAR and Ford team, the Wood Brothers. The resulting company could have been called Petty Brothers Racing or PBR. Shoot, I already even had the logo ready.

Thanks to Jeremey at Digital Innovations Creative.

Sure, it would have taken some backroom politicking to make it happen.
  • Letting the Petty name trump the Woods.
  • Royalties to Pabst.
  • Maybe trading some cost towards loyalties for the logo for a lucrative Pabst sponsorship.
  • Convincing the King to come off his no-beer-sponsor stance.
Think about it for a minute. Pabst Brewing now owns about every yard beer you ever had. What a great opportunity it could have been for Petty Bros. Racing to feature Pabst beers in regional ways.
  • The colors of the flagship beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, could have been run about half the season.
  • How about Old Milwaukee at the Michigan races?
  • Old Style at Chicagoland?
  • Lone Star at Texas Motor Speedway?
  • "Natty Bo" National Bohemian at Dover?
Selfishly, I wish it could have happened. Pabst Brewing is the corporate parent of Schaefer beer, and I think I've been pretty clear where I stand with my loyalties to that brew...

Can you imagine a Schaefer 43 at the Daytona 500?

TMC