Tuesday, February 21, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: Charlotte 1

As a native North Carolinian, Schaefer Hall of Fame co-founder Philly grew up going to races at tracks such as Rockingham, Wilkesboro, Martinsville, and Charlotte. He and I met when both of us were living in Chattanooga. In May 1994, he suggested we go to the 1994 Coca-Cola 600. Done, I'm in.

The two of us, our wives, and their eight-month old young'un loaded up in Philly's recently acquired green Pontiac Trans Port mini-van that looked like this one.

Our Friday destination was Matthews, NC to stay with Philly's in-laws. The weekend plans were for Philly and me to go racing and the ladies to shop, tour the area, or whatever people do to waste time when they aren't at a race.

Philly and I set our Saturday sights on the original Petty Museum in Level Cross. We then planned to return to Matthews to load up on tailgating food and beer supply. What we had not anticipated, however, was having a third wheel. Philly's better half said matter-of-factly "We'll have him on Sunday, so y'all get him on Saturday." With our marching orders in hand, we loaded up Woodhead and headed out for the day. After all, I've learned many racing weekends involve living in Plan B.

Woodhead had already been introduced to racing...sort of. The night he was born in The Nooga, I took him his first NASCAR t-shirt - a Dale Jarrett Interstate Batteries yute size. He traveled fine to Level Cross and tolerated us as we soaked in the Petty history displayed in the wood paneled, low ceiling museum.

When we made it back to Matthews, Woodhead was getting a bit fidgety. He'd ridden the better part of four hours strapped in his car seat after having ridden in it for several hours the day before. Yet, Philly and I were on a mission. We still had beer shopping to do.

Food Lion was our destination. They were still heavily involved as a sponsor in NASCAR, had supported Richard Petty's Fan Appreciation Tour in 1992, and was the last grocery store chain in North Carolina that sold Schaefer. We squeezed Woodhead into the kid's seat of the buggy and set sail.
  • Chips ✔ 
  • Loaf bread ✔ 
  • Pack of ham ✔ 
  • Private label cheese ... product ✔ 
  • Little Debbie's ✔ 
Up next, a careful examination of Food Lion's beer offerings. As we stood there pondering our options, each of the brands in the chiller seemed to holler Pick Me.

We were so engrossed in the process that we took our focus off the buggy behind us. Suddenly, we heard a muffled whoomp followed by crying. We wheeled around to find Woodhead laying atop our smashed loaf of bread and bags of crushed chips.

One thing was certain about Woodhead. That boy loved to eat. He was sizable enough at eight months that we were unable to buckle him into the buggy! Up until that moment, we'd done a yeoman's job of keeping our eye on him. Being distracted by beer, however, nearly cost us dearly. He could have just as easily flipped the other way and landed on the floor.

As Philly picked him to see that all was OK, we noticed a woman across the aisle giving us the stink eye and a tsk, tsk head shake. Choosing to make her opinion  known, she stated directly "you put a mark on that boy, and y'all may as well not go home."

I'm pleased to say Woodhead survived his free fall into the grocery mosh pit. I'm also pleased to have seen him grow as a racing fan as well as one who appreciates Schaefer. And he's so smart Jenny. He was inducted into the Schaefer Ring of Honor in Daytona before the 2015 Coke Zero 400.


Friday, February 17, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: Daytona 3

The 1980 Daytona 500 was my first to attend. A few months earlier at the wedding of my uncle Earl, my uncle Ronald who had introduced me to racing about five years earlier committed to taking me to Daytona. With King Richard having won the 1979 500 and his seventh title, I was on a high knowing he'd likely return strong in the 1980 race.

Ronald was always somewhat of a free spirit. As race week arrived, my travel plans suddenly changed. Rather than have me ride with him to Jacksonville to stay with Earl and his new bride, Ronald called my mother to say he was already in Jacksonville! Today, I'd be frustrated as hell if he pulled that stunt - but then it was simply no big deal. I kept my eye on the prize and really wasn't worried about the details - even if my parents were.

On a Friday night, my mother put me on a Greyhound bus for an all-night ride to Jacksonville. I naively slept pretty much the whole way. Fortunately, my uncle was there to pick me up at the station - well at least Earl was. Ronald, who'd promised the trip and the ride, was a no-show.

Earl surprised me with an unexpected outing Saturday night. He took me to NWA wrasslin' at Jacksonville's Memorial Coliseum. He was very intellectual, college educated, informed of current events, opinionated, and a sports junkie. Professional wrestling, however, was kind of his soap opera or trashy novel vice. Unlike many who immersed themselves in it, he knew what was real vs. staged. Yet he still enjoyed and laughed heartily at the story lines. We got to see The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, and the largest man I've ever seen in my life - Andre The Giant.

Earl, my new aunt, Ronald, his girlfriend, and I left on a cold Sunday morning in the mid-size motorhome belonging to my aunt's father. I went to Florida thinking the weather was always warm. My long sleeve shirt, denim jacket and orange/blue Petty cap were about to be tested.

We were in front of Lake Lloyd without a really clear view of anything - not of the pits or of turns 3 and 4. I could barely see the start-finish line through the myriad of folks on top of their motorhomes. But we had a pretty good view of turns 1 and 2 before they thundered down the backstretch.

With the 43 starting 4th, that day-glo red and Petty blue Olds 442 popped from the starting grid whereas the gray pole-winning car of Buddy Baker was hard to spot anywhere on the track from where we were.

The King was competitive, and I remember shaking as he made lap after lap in the draft. Part of it was adrenaline - but I'm sure a lot of it was because the temps were dropping as a stiff wind intensified. But I simply could not believe it when Petty disappeared from the track.

I used a Winston AM radio headset back in the late 1980s and early 90s and have used a scanner since. Looking back, I find it funny I didn't have any sort of radio with me. I had no idea what happened to the 43. By the time the car disappeared, Ronald had already climbed down and disappeared into the motorhome. One reason was to warm himself from the weather. Another was to warm himself with a few nips from a bottle of Old No. 7! He had MRN on the radio, and that's where I learned 43 was done for the day after climbing down myself.

Yet the race continued, so I went back on top. After another dozen laps or so, the cold got the best of the rest of 'em. One by one - my aunt, Ronald's girlfriend, and then Earl - all retreated to the motorhome leaving me alone. I shivered with hands thrust in my pockets and collar upturned as a hedge against the wind. I know Buddy won, but I simply could not see that gray Olds cross the line.

The race is one of a few where I don't have a ticket stub. I think we just paid a flat fee or maybe a per head fee to get into the infield. But I did return home with a couple of collectibles:
  • a Daytona t-shirt that I wore until it was thread bare - well, actually until I piled on the freshman fifteen (and then some) in college. I'd hate to think what I'd look like if I tried to sport a shirt that small today.
  • a patch with the old DIS logo that I bought at Stuckey's on the way back to Jax. My mother stitched it plus multiple other racing patches to the back of that jean jacket I wore to the race.

  • a Richard Petty 'jersey' shirt. I happened to be wearing it later that spring when a few photos were taken for our high school yearbook.
I got to observe plenty of adult things from heavy drinking, hootin and hollerin, a portable hot tub even in the cold air, etc. (I wish it'd been much warmer to have my eyes opened by the bikinis that were certainly sported under heavy jackets.) But I remember thinking one of the neatest things I saw was this little custom roadster made to look like a Busch beer can.

Only recently did I learn the 1980 500 was likely the debut of the roadster. A couple of New Smyrna entrepreneurial designers built it. Later they contracted with Stroh's Brewing to build several as promotional cars.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal
The arrangement between Ronald and my parents - written in sand I suppose - was for Ronald to drive me back to Tennessee on Monday. Schools may have been closed because of President's Day, or maybe I simply missed the day. Either way, I needed to be back in school on Tuesday.

But again, Ronald's plans were always fluid. Instead of driving me home, he decided he'd stay in Jax a few more days. So he bought me a one-way ticket on Eastern Airlines. At least he did park and wait with me at the gate until flight time. While waiting at our gate, he nudged me and said "Recognize those two?". I wasn't sure who he was referring to as I scanned around. Finally he pointed "Right there. It's Junior Johnson and Cale."

Suddenly it was an oh yeah! moment - yet I just sat there. I had the opportunity the meet Cale at my first Cup race at Nashville in 1978. But because he dominated for the win and because I'd drawn a bead on getting to the 43, I passed up my shot. In February 1980, I passed on the opportunity again. I still was no big fan of that 3x champion. I recall Ronald laughing as he said I may be taking my Petty loyalism a little too far.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: The Horseshoe Lounge 2.0

The first visit to Johnson City, TN's Horseshoe Lounge in 1992 by Schaefer co-founder Philly and I was random. Our return visit in 1994 was planned. As we hit the county line to ready for the Food City 500, we knew after our destiny was to once again order the best burger in Johnson City along with a cold Busch or two to wash it down.

As we pulled into the parking lot, we were confused a bit by a new sign. Instead of Casey's Horseshoe Lounge, the sign now read McCreary's Horseshoe Lounge. Yet we walked into the place like we were old timers and found a seat at an empty table.

Our waitress came over and politely let us know the table was reserved. (I don't remember her name, but I'll refer to her going forward as Shirley because the name fit the place.) "Reserved? Y'all take reservations??" Surprisingly, they did take call-ahead seating requests - especially for regulars which we were not. But Shirley said they weren't expected for another hour, so we could stay until then.

We had to ask - McCreary's? What happened to Casey? "Aww, that changed a couple of months ago hon. Hey y'all! When did we change the name?" [from behind the bar: "Wasn't it the week after the Super Bowl?"] DOH! OK, that answered that question.

Hot, fresh, tasty burgers and fries arrived along with a cold brew - and then began the afternoon entertainment: karaoke. Some sad sack named Johnny took the mic - black toboggan on his head, scraggly beard, a pack of smokes in his pocket, and a beer in hand. Johnny commenced to singing (or attempted to sing) some sort of sad, country ballad. Something along the lines of Merle, Hank or Cash - though I've long forgotten the barely recognizable tune. But rather than just sing, his drunken state led him to keep the microphone almost in his mouth. His singing came off more like a Bill Cosby bit or a low-octave version of Miss Othmar, Charlie Brown's teacher.

After Johnny finished and earned some tepid applause, another couple of brave souls took the mic to sing redneck karaoke. Johnny soon returned, however, and was ready for more. Our burgers had fortunately vanished by then; otherwise, we could not have eaten them because of our laughter.

Having lost track of time, we were a bit surprised when Shirley returned, apologized, and said she needed our reserved table. We understood and were prepared to make our break. But this sweetheart had more. "Y'all ain't gotta leave. Nina and Larry said y'all could sit with them."

Who? Sure enough, we turned around and spotted a random couple at another booth waving at us. Shirley had done some recon for us, explained we were race fans from out of town, and were facing "no room in the inn." We laughed, politely declined the kind offer from Nina and Larry, but chose to stick around for a bit more of Johnny's hillbilly lounge act.

Shirley continued to be an excellent waitress. She kept an eye on us and made sure we had a cold replacement. As we stood against the wall, a table of beastly females started grinning and asked if we wanted to sing with them. Before I could suggest we tab out, Philly said "Sure! Sign us up!"

Shirley returned and asked "another'n?". Though I wanted no part of road pig karaoke, I did make a final request.
Shirley, we want two Miller High Lifes. But - I  want you to peel the labels off of the bottles. Miller sponsored Bobby Allison. Did you know when he got hurt at Pocono in '88, they dropped him like a bad date? So we ain't about to publicly support the brand. Got it?
She walked away confused - and rightfully so considering my embellishment. Meanwhile, we got a countdown update. "Y'all 'bout ready? We're number 6! What y'all wanna sing?" Lawd almighty, get me out of here.

Philly then nudged me, pointed and said "Look at that." Sure 'nuff, Shirley was at the bar with with two High Lifes and a butter knife.

We're number 3 y'all!

She brought two nekkid bottles to us, and I gave her a hug and asked for the tab. With a clink and a laugh, I told Philly "Bury it so we can go."

We're up next y'all! Chug man.

When Shirley returned, we palmed her plenty of cash to cover our tab plus a generous tip. We tossed our empties, turned for the door, and thankfully escaped the grand stage of McCreary's Horseshoe Lounge.

A few years ago, I stumbled over Horseshoe Lounge written by songwriter Slaid Cleaves. Though I understand the song is based on a real bar by that name as well as plenty of general bar adventures, the song isn't about our Horseshoe. Nonetheless, Slaid included enough close-to-the-pin references that I can relate it to our two visits.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: My Significant Other

A fitting post for Valentine's Day I think...

Aside from the racing, time with friends, and enjoyment of Schaefer, one of the most enjoyable parts for me of attending a NASCAR weekend is meeting new folks. We've had some of the best times meeting couples from Loudon to Vegas and from Phoenix to Charlotte. It's fun to see their tailgating styles, menu options, which driver they pull for, their pets, whatever. Having said that, I travel as the sole representative of my own household on racing trips for three specific reasons.

Strike 1

Not long after a co-worker and I started dating, I regularly mentioned my passion for racing. She agreed to give it a try, and we went to Talladega in May 1989 for the Winston 500.

I'd been to Talladega once before. For the 1987 Winston 500, I sat on the frontstretch just a couple of sections to the right of Harold Kinder - not far from where Bobby Allison horrifically ripped the fence. The tickets were comp'd, and I really didn't explore the track much or have a strategy for parking.

Because our plan to go in '89 was last minute, I didn't buy reserved seats. Instead, we opted for general admission backstretch tickets. My girlfriend's first impression of the scene was not a favorable one.
  • The morning air was pretty chilly. 
  • The wooden bleachers were full of splinters. 
  • The smell of cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air. 
  • And the hootin' and hollerin' from the rowdies was already at volume level 8.
As race time drew near, the sun jumped the temps pretty quickly. A good ol' boy lounging on the grassy bank below our bleachers decided it was time to get in the zone. He was wearing a pair of sweat pants, and he stumbled a bit as he tried to shed them in favor of his shorts. But in the process of doing so, he managed to hook his thumbs in the waistband of this sweats, shorts, and tighty-whities. He mooned the whole bleacher section - including my girlfriend. Don't look Ethel!

When the green flag dropped and the restricted engines of the bunched pack muscled up to speed, I focused more on the race than I did her. Hey, we were at a race. Right? It wasn't as if we were on a date date.

The bleacher bums amp'd their lusty cheers to 11 as their heroes screamed down the backstretch - the Earnhardt's Goodwrench Chevy, Rusty's Kodiak Pontiac, Neil Bonnett in the Wood Brothers' Ford, and Alabama's newest favorite son Davey Allison in the Havoline Ford. WHOOOOOO! But my girlfriend just sat there stoically and wasn't buying it.

About halfway through the race, one of the fellas behind us needed a break. Rather than cross over his brethren, he decided he'd step down a few rows of empty pine. After navigating a couple of them successfully, he misstepped one and pitched forward. Fortunately for him - but not so much for us - my girlfriend was his brake. He caught her in the upper back and bent her over as he stopped. To his credit, he pulled up and slobbered out a meek sorry ma'am.

To my credit, I was chivalrous, defended my lady friend, dog cussed the guy, and tossed him to the aisle. Actually, that's a bald-faced lie. I laughed heartily at the whole scene and earned a death glare from her when it wasn't directed at Gomer.

The bad situation (for her - still funny to me) got worse as the race hit the 3/4 mark and the dicing intensified. The intensity was too much for another one of our new-found buddies behind us to stomach. Or maybe it was the prodigious amount of booze he'd consumed that weekend. Either way, we heard the unmistakable sound of wretching as the Puke Monster unloaded on the empty bleacher row in front of him. That's it, enough. She was ready to bolt for the car, but fortunately I talked her into moving a couple of sections away so I could be there for the finish.

Amazingly, we made it to the end. Even more surprising is she later agreed to marry me, and we got hitched about 18 months later. I'm glad we stayed. As it turned out, I was there to see Davey take the win as I was his other two times in 1987 and 1992.

Strike 2

Two years after Talladega, she agreed to give racing a second chance. Being a bit wiser myself, I opted for going to Atlanta instead of coaxing her into a return trip to Talladega. Our target: the 1991 Motorcraft 500. To help things a bit, a friend of mine and his wife went with us.

We were prepared for a great day of racing fun. Alan Kulwicki qualified fastest in his debut race with Hooters as his sponsor, and Ken Schrader had a fast car which made my friend happy.

The race began, but then a persistent rain followed. We sat in the stands with our meager ponchos as we hoped for relief. The track's PA announcer and MRN reassured the fans that we'd soon be racing again because a weather window was opening. I bet we heard weather window a hundred times that afternoon.

The window never opened, and the remainder of the race was postponed until Monday. On our way back to Chattanooga, my buddy and I made the decision to take a vacation day and return for the conclusion. But not my wife. She'd had enough.

Strike 3

When Richard Petty announced his plans to retire after the end of the 1992 season, Schaefer co-founder Philly and I made plans to hit as many races as we could that year. Of critical importance to us was attending his final event - the Hooters 500 at Atlanta. I asked my wife if she wanted me to buy her a ticket as well. The King's last race - on a fall, southern afternoon? C'mon.

Her answer was along the lines of "Fine, but I'll take a book to read." What? A book? I replied it would be wasted money if I bought her a ticket only to have her read the whole time. Who could even do that? "Then don't buy me a ticket. I really don't wanna go anyway." So I didn't.

My 43rd year as a racing fan is now underway. And I've been the sole representative from my home at all races I've attended since March 1991. I generally have a great time meeting other couples at races, but odds are slim to none any of them will ever meet my better half.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: The Horseshoe Lounge 1.0

Schaefer co-founder Philly and I made our way to Bristol in April 1992 for the Food City 500. The race was to be my first Bristol race since Rusty Wallace's first win in the 1986 Valleydale Meats 500, and I believe it was Philly's first Bristol trip.

Philly scored us a pair of tickets when he traded with his apartment neighbor for a set of bar stools. With the transaction being a somewhat last minute deal, we had to wrangle a place to stay. Remarkably, we found a room at the Red Roof Inn in Johnson City.

As we checked in, we asked the desk clerk for a recommendation to watch the NCAA basketball tourney games that afternoon and evening. She politely and articulately directed us to a neighboring chain restaurant. It had a lounge and would likely be airing the game.

Philly and I looked at each other, sneered, smirked, and returned to her. "That's fine and all. But it'll probably be crowded, overpriced, and boring. Where would you go if you weren't working tonight?"

She lowered her head, slipped into her natural east Tennessee country accent, and replied with gusto, "Well hell, I'd go to the Horseshoe Lounge up by the VA Hospital. They got the best burgers in Johnson City." Sold!

After getting directions, we dumped our gear and then laughed as we pulled into the parking lot of Casey's Horseshoe Lounge - a fine looking, hole-in-the-wall, entertainment venue. Once inside, we wondered if we'd gone to heaven. The bar had a NASCAR theme with name badges affixed to each table and driver swag hanging on the wall above each of them.

The burgers were indeed fantastic, and we downed them with a NASCAR-related but non-driver-specific Busch. After a couple of them, I was the first to break the seal. Returning to my chair, I found that Philly had ordered us a couple of PBR tall boys. Nice.

When Philly hit the can, I returned the favor and ordered a couple of Old Milwaukee quarts. Yes, they had genuine 32 ounce glass Old Mil bottles. They were dreadful, but the laughter, hoops, and fellow bar patrons were all fantastic.

As the night wore on, Casey's added several more folks. Being noobs in the place, we kept an active sixth sense in case the vibe turned south. We surrendered our table and moved closer to the door just to keep our options open.

After peaking our awfulness with Old Mil, we returned to an icy mug of something more mainstream. Miller Lite, Coors Light, whatever. I made what I believe was a very astute...and prescient... comment to Philly:
Ever notice in the movies when they have bar fights where folks smash beer mugs over each others' heads? But have you ever actually seen a mug break? These things are indestructible! I've seen waitresses drop them and drunks knock 'em over, but they never break. 
Within moments after had I said it, chaos broke out..kinda. With no warning, some dude found himself laying right in the middle of a couple's table. Their burgers went flying as did their beer mugs - which shattered as they hit the floor!

The new centerpiece managed to lift himself from the table to reveal a shirt smothered in mustard, and he feebly muttered Sorry. His buds came over to assist him - and brought a pair of cuff crutches! Turns out the poor slob had serious issues with his legs and needed the crutches to walk. When he went to take a leak, however, he was so drunk he had forgotten his crutches! He took one or two steps and pitched right over into the poor couple's date night meal.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

February 8, 1964 - Another Petty Daytona win

All true Petty fans, most NASCAR fans, and even several racing novices know Richard Petty won his first of seven Daytona 500s in 1964. He started from the front row alongside Paul Goldsmith and went on to dominate the 500.

A somewhat hidden piece of history, however, is how the front row was determined that year. Goldsmith and Petty laid down the quickest laps with their Plymouths and newly unveiled Hemi engines during qualifying on Friday, February 7. Prior to 1964 and in each year after 1964, the top two speeds guaranteed the top two starters for the 500.

Source: Asheville Citizen-Times
A new wrinkle, however, was added in 1964. The odd and even numbered qualifiers from Friday raced in twin 50-mile races on Saturday, February 8. The winners of the two races secured the top two starting positions. Goldsmith and Petty won their respective twin, so it worked out that the two quickest cars did earn the front row. Had the duo NOT won their races, however, they would have had to earn their spots in the traditional 100-mile twins held a few days before the 500.

Source: The Greenville News
Though the 100-mile twins counted in the pre-Winston era as official races, the 1964 50-mile pole races did not. (Nor did other Daytona 500 consolation and Firecracker qualifying races held between 1959 and 1967.) So add another win to Richard's list of Daytona accomplishments - especially when the media compares Earnhardt's Clash, twins, IROC, and other non-GN/Cup Daytona wins to the King.

Source: Daytona Beach Morning Journal
In his 100-mile qualifying twin, Petty ran out of gas coming to the checkers allowing Bobby Isaac squeak by for the win and Jimmy Pardue in second. If someone other than Isaac had won the 50-mile race, King may well have started 8th vs. 2nd in the 500. With Petty's domination in the 500, however, it likely didn't matter where the 43 started - though his number of laps led may have decreased by a couple.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: Bristol 1

Soon after closing on our first house, I learned my little Toyota Corolla was ill-equipped for regular runs to the hardware store, landscaping lot, Walmart, etc. Adding to the need for more room in my vehicle was the addition of Winston to our household.

As a pup, Winston went just about everywhere with me. Getting smacked in the face by his sturdy and hyperactive puppy tail, however, got really old. I traded out my Yota for a 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and life was a wee bit better.

I bought the standard, two-wheel drive model though I also test-drove the 4WD version. I opted for the two-wheel drive one because:
  • The handling was more to my liking, 
  • I didn't plan to take it on many off-road excursions, and
  • The dealer wanted $2,000 extra for the 4WD option!
Schaefer co-founder Philly and I loaded the Jeep on a Saturday morning in April 1994 for an overnight trip to Bristol. We were on our way for the Food City 500. (As an aside, we were as stunned as anyone and laughed heartily as we heard on MRN that Mark Martin pulled off the track a lap early to gift the Busch race win to David Green.)

On Sunday, we picked a lot well away from the track. Cost wasn't bad - 10 bucks or so. After watching Earnhardt win...again, our jaws dropped as we arrived at our parking lot. The buttheads running the lot had eked out every stinking dollar of revenue they could. Vehicles were parked parallel and perpendicular liked a series of failed Tetris rows.

We were blocked on the sides and behind us. One upside we had, however, is no one was in front of me. A couple of options were available:
  • wait for a bunch of half-lit fans to lollygag back to the lot and leave so we could back out -or-
  • pull straight ahead, cross a small ditch, climb the slight rise, and turn right on the highway.
Facing a 5+ hour ride home to Chattanooga plus work on Monday, option 1 was immediately discarded. I eased down one side of the embankment, through the marshy bottom of the ditch, and up the other side. But then...

With the wet ditch, I got zero traction. I tried not to spin the rear tires, but I was making no forward progress.

As a few good ol' boys sauntered up, they offered sage advice "DROP IT IN 4 WHEEL DRIVE MAN!" I laughingly bellowed back "I would if I'd had two grand more."

Philly stepped out of the passenger side and asked the guys if they could give us a hand. Sure enough, the inebriated bunch of good-hearted souls gathered at the rear of my Jeep and yelled Go!

I eased into the gas but still wasn't going anywhere at first. But then bit by bit, I moved forward some. I glanced to my left and spotted Philly doubled-over laughing outside the door. Before I could even ask what was so funny, he stammered out just keep going between laughs. 

Finally I popped out on the shoulder of the highway, and the Jeep's rear wheels were again back on asphalt. Philly yelled thanks and jumped in. I threw my hand out the window to acknowledge them too, but returned my focus to checking my mirrors for on-coming traffic. 

Philly then said while still busting a gut "stop a second and look at those clowns." All of them - several shirtless - were covered ankle-to-neck in fresh mud but laughing and with a fresh brew in hand. 

With a shake of the head and you've GOT to be kidding me, we headed for I-81 to lead us home.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

TMC Racing Stories: Daytona 2

Some have wondered.
Some have guessed.
I've shared with some.
Others couldn't give a rip.

But here goes.

I've blogged a handful of times about one of my uncles introducing me to racing back in 1974. He took me to my first late model sportsman race and first Cup race - both at Nashville's Fairgrounds Speedway. He also took me to my first Daytona 500 in 1980. Other than those occasions, however, we didn't go to many races together.

Another uncle - the youngest of the four siblings - invited us to Daytona in 1991 for the annual Pepsi err Firecracker 400. I had been the previous couple of years with different friends, but this was to be the my first race with three of my uncles.

My oldest uncle rode with me. Ronald - the one that intro'd me to racing - drove separately with my cousins in his Camaro. We stayed together pretty closely on the trip from Tennessee to Jacksonville on Friday. Not a bad pace - 70-75 most of the way. Until.

We got to Lake City FL and knew the next milestone was the Duval County / Jacksonville city limits line. As we approached it, both of us amp'd the speed a bit more. As we got well into the county and close to Orange Park, we were both flying. (Not advised kids.) I was in front of him and blocking by switching lanes on I-295.

But I deked when I should've juked, and he re-passed me as we hit the Buckman Bridge over the St. John's River. The bridge was a no-passing zone back then. But I swung around another car, passed Ronald, and moved back in front of him as we exited the interstate on the other side of the bridge. I held the lead until we got to my uncle's house, and my oldest uncle and I declared ourselves the winners. My cousins immediately howled in protest about my no-pass zone infraction. Either way, we knew a great weekend was about to unfold.

We headed for Daytona early Saturday to make the mid-morning green flag. Many today frequently pine for a return to that tradition. Those that do so either (1) have never experienced it or (2) have forgotten what it was like. It was beyond hot. We may well have been halfway to Hades after having interstate-raced the night before.

But...we were there.

Let's see...

Chilled adult beverages? Perhaps a few
Sunscreen - scant
Water - zero

I honestly remember little of the race except for Awful Bill from Dawsonville winning in his blue Coors Light Ford and the bad wreck involving Joe Ruttman and Darrell Waltrip.

As you may have rightfully surmised, I wasn't a big fan of Elliott back in the day. One of my uncle's friends who went with us and his young son, however, were big Elliott homers, and they were elated. The kid gloated all the way back to Jax as the rest of us continued consuming the remaining inventory of the coolers.

Once home, someone had the lame-brained idea of playing basketball on my uncle's concrete driveway. Frequent replenishment with Gatorade? Umm, not exactly - unless Stokely Van Camp had a Bud flavored one.

My oldest uncle had a belly as big as west Texas and sported a shirt the size of Rhode Island. He acted as if he had the game of Lebron James, but his hoop skills were much closer to those of Etta James. The rest of us just flopped around, missed shots, paused to take a swig, and fell down...a lot.

I spent as much time lifting myself from the scorching concrete as I did with my ferocious defense on an uncle or cousins who by now were beginning to look a lot alike and starting to replicate in numbers. At some point, I collided with Ronald and went to the deck.

As we sweated, laughed and burned, the 12 year-old Bill Elliott fan stood over me after one of my falls and declared with resignation: "Mr. Chase, who know what your problem is? You're full of too much country."

I have no idea where he came up with that - and really wasn't sure at the time what he even meant. But I started laughing and then embraced it. I got up, tousled his hair, and replied "Ya know Nic, you got that right. I am full of too much country."

Nic the Elliott fan at Talladega two races later
Over time, I've defined the label as I've seen fit. I've embraced it as as a compliment, accept it as an insult, and often see it in others.

In May 2016, I met Darrell Waltrip in Charlotte coming down the Smith Tower elevator following Thursday night qualifying for the Coke 600. I'd met Ol' DW before but re-intro'd myself. I said "We've met before DW, but my name is Chase. You've seen me on Twitter as toomuchcountry." He paused and joked for the benefit of others on the elevator "Hmm, I didn't think there was such a thing as too much country." I held our shake an extra moment, maintained eye contact and replied "Yes, there is...and No, there isn't."

A quarter-century and then some ago. Wow. I've watched many races since then. I'm now more diligent about using sunscreen, my water intake is much higher, I consume far fewer cans of Schaefer, and I haven't raced to a race since July 1991.

And now you know the origin of toomuchcountry.