Friday, November 9, 2012

November 9 - A Rockingham Road Trip

It's the birthday of Philly - Schaefer Hall of Fame co-founder, executive committee member, and president of ticketing supply chain operations!

November 9 is also the anniversary of Bill Elliott's final career Winston Cup victory. After being competitive but not a leader for the first half of the race, Elliott led the majority of the second half of the 2003 Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn 400 at North Carolina Motor Speedway. Or as us old schoolers referred to it - The 'merican 400 at Rockin'ham. I was at The Rock that day along with fellow SHOFers Philly and Paducah.

Bill's salad days were in the #9 Coors / Melling Ford; however, his final win came in a Ray Evernham-owned #9 Dodge. As an owner, Ray had a solid day with his second car driven by Jeremy Mayfield finishing third.

Elliott was voted by the fans as NASCAR's Most Popular Driver for many consecutive years during his career. He was cheered by many as Awesome Bill from Dawsonville. Neither Philly or I ever much cared for him, and both of us referred to him as Awful Bill. Yet, we begrudgingly have to recognize Awful Bill as the reason for the founding of the Schaefer tradition.

I tailgated so to speak with SHOFers Philly and Paducah. Brrrrr, it was colder'n all get out on race morning. We bought a small rick of wood, a fire starter brick, and a box of fried chicken from Harris Teeter grocery store. After parking, we built the meager fire as quickly as possible, buried the chicken, and spent the next couple of hours sitting in lawn chairs and leaning forward to within about 6 inches of the fading fire in an attempt to supplement our body heat.

In an rare occurrence for us, we couldn't score any Schaefer that weekend. As a worthy substitute, we pounded several Miller High Life pony bottles. Swigging cold beers didn't exactly help our efforts to stay warm - but they sure hit the spot anyway.

Flyin' Ryan Newman won the pole in Roger Penske's Dodge. His #12 car sported a throwback paint scheme - a nod to Penske's early days in NASCAR with drivers such as Mark Donahue, Dave Marcis and Bobby Allison.

None of the three of us were huge fans of Newman, Penske, or those drivers who piloted Penske's red-white-blue Matadors in the early 1970s. But we cheered the car lustily simply because of the cool tribute.

Ignorant fans around us were totally lost as to the reason for our WHOO's. We tried to explain - Penske? Mark Donahue? Bobby Friggin' Allison? Yet that gaggle of contemporary fans who likely glommed onto the sport during the Earnhardt or Gordon era with no knowledge of the past - or interest in it - never understood.

Interestingly, we reacted the same way a day earlier - and got the same reaction from those around us - when Martin Truex, Jr. hit the track in a throwback Ralph Earnhardt color scheme in the Busch race. He was racing a limited Busch schedule for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s Chance II team (later to become JR Motorsports).

You had a Dale Jr.-owned car sporting the colors of his legendary grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt. Yet we had folks around us wearing black "3" hats who simply didn't understand the relevance of the scheme or respect shown by the team.

A nice surprise during the race was a 30-lap segment led by Wahd Buhton in the Gene Haas #0 NetZero Pontiac. Though Ward later faded to a mid-pack finish, his time at the front was popular with the crowd. Fast forward a half-dozen years, and Gene Haas' struggling team was reinvented as Stewart-Haas Racing.

The rags to riches transition of the Haas team within just a few years got me to wondering about others who had come and gone in the few years since the 2003 Rockingham race.

We no longer have drivers in the field such as:
  • Sterling Marlin
  • Jeremy Mayfield
  • Terry Labonte
  • Robby Gordon
  • Ken Schrader
  • Ricky Rudd
  • Johnny Benson
Some drivers active in 2003 continue to be active in the sport but with a microphone including:
  • Kyle Petty
  • Ricky Craven
  • Dale Jarrett
  • Rusty Wallace
  • Jimmy Spencer
But it's also amazing who weren't yet active Cup drivers in 2003:
  • Kasey Kahne (who later took over Evernham's #9 Dodge from Elliott)
  • Kyle Busch
  • Carl Edwards
  • Denny Hamlin
  • Brad Keselowski
  • Clint Bowyer
  • Joey Logano
One driver finishing fourth in the 2003 Rockingham race - and still racing competitively today - was Matt Kenseth. Matt's Rockingham finish earned him enough points to win the final Winston Cup Series championship with one race remaining. When the teams returned in 2004, the series had Nextel as its new sponsor and a new points system.


So while recalling great memories of a cold North Carolina day, Awful Bill's final victory, and the crowning of Matt Kenseth as the final Winston Cup Series champion - the Schaefer Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor wish fellow Schaefer brutha Philly...

Happy Birthday! SCHA-LOOT!!

Edited November 9, 2014

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