I remember the 1st auto race I went to, I don’t remember much detail and anything I say beyond couple of sentences is a fantasy. I was 7 or 8 when I went to my 1st stock car race. In was at the Carbondale Fairgrounds in Carbondale ILL, not far from where my Dad grew up in Herrin ILL. The track was red clay and normally used to race horses. I remember we sat real close to the track, being covered in red clay dust, and the noise. Anything beyond this is my imagination at work. Having said that I am going to allow my imagination to talk about the race: We sat so close to the track that the cars were just a blur as they went by, I remember the fans screaming and cheering, but most of all I remember the wrecks. That was enough to hook me on stock car racing.
As boys growing up, most of us that were not the classroom over achievers, wanted to be in sports. We wanted to be big football or baseball stars, some wanted to be pro basketball players, and some of us wanted to be Race Car Drivers. Me, I would have loved to have grown up to be a sports legend, my 1st choice would have been a great football player (Quarterback), but I didn’t have the size or speed, Doug Flutie looked like a giant compared to me, and you could time me with a sundial. Next I would have really enjoyed being like Cal Ripken, but I couldn’t hit a curve, or a change-up, nor even a fastball, and my fielding sucked. LOL! And we don’t even need to address how I sucked at basketball. Later I wanted to be a professional golfer, someone like Arnold Palmer, and as much as I loved golf, there were some weaknesses in my game. But I had other fantasies to explore, and that left stock car racing. Clearly I didn’t achieve that goal either, but of my fantasies, I had the most fun exploring it.
It is clear to me that my Dad really enjoyed auto racing. One of his claims to fame was that he once had an opportunity to drive a REAL RACE CAR at Dover International Raceway. This was before it became the “monster mile”, this was back when it was only ¾ of a mile, and dirt. I never saw that, I wish I did, and when he spoke of it, he did so with such reverence that I believed him. He also admitted that driving a car at that speed, with other cars on the track at the same scared the shit out of him, and I believe that as well. So anyway I believe I got my love for stock car racing from him.
Thru the years as a child whenever we moved, Dad would find the closest track for us to go and watch racing. But until we moved to Louisville, KY it wasn’t that often. Louisville at the time was the central point for racing south of Indianapolis and north of TN. In the greater Louisville area there were 4 active 1/5 and quarter-mile tracks. On Friday nights 2 of the tracks had Late Models and the other 2 had Figure 8 racing. The Louisville Motor Speedway at the Kentucky Fairgrounds was the top dog on both nights. Figure 8 racing on Fridays and Late Models on Saturday. We loved the thrill of Figure 8 racing. Maybe for the uninformed LOL LOL I should take a moment to describe Figure 8 racing. Imagine a quarter-mile oval (like the track around a football field), now draw an X thru it (at approximately the 50 yard line), thus creating the figure 8. A lap is one complete circuit of the track. There are no stop signs where the track intersects. Now put 15 to 25 cars on the track and have them race for races up to 25 laps. I can’t do the math but there were a ton of opportunities for crashes at the X, and there used to be all manner of GREAT CRASHES at the X, which is why you would go to the Figure 8 racing in the first place. If you were a purest, you most likely would go to the Late Model races. Going to the races was a family event most the time. But if mom wasn’t interested she would stay home and us boys would go. I probably enjoyed the races more than any of my sibling. I remember dad putting an orange Styrofoam ball on the antenna to help us locate the car, the parking lot was that full. Having said that, there were also a lot of cars with orange Styrofoam balls on their antennas.
While I was in the Navy, I would go to the races whenever possible. A bunch of us guys would travel from Norfolk to Richmond VA to watch racing on a Saturday night. This was back before I 64 ran between the two cities, and State Route 60 was a snake path. And it would take 2 + hours to travel the 105 miles between the ship and the race track. But 3 or 4 of us would go 3 or 4 times a season if the ship was in port.
After leaving the Navy, and starting a family going to the races was no longer a common factor. The responsibilities of home and family came before racing. And with my love of golf, given the choice between going to a race or playing a round of golf. Golf always won.
But on one trip back to Kentucky to visit family, I managed to talk Steph into going to the figure 8 races. It is the only time that Steph when to a race, but she had the time of her life. She paid close attention and loved the crashes. You could hear the excitement in her voice, and see her come out of her seat whenever an almost wreck took place. I think the only thing that spoiled it for her was when one of the drivers came into the stands to visit with wife/girlfriend (only a couple of feet away from us) and as he was talking he was munching on a hotdog, I think (know) that fact that his hand was black from grease and he hadn’t bother to wipe even a little of it off got to her. LOL LOL She loved the racing, but the greasy hand got her LOL.
Years later when I could afford to play golf whenever I wanted, and could afford other entertainment choices as well, I started going to the races again. Living in Northern Virginia there weren’t a lot of choices, and no figure 8 racing at all. A couple of times I when to a place called Boggs Creek Maryland to watch racing, one time they had a World of Outlaws event that was a ton of fun. Most the other times we when out to Boggs Creek, was for junker racing which was fun too.
The closest NASCAR track was Richmond International Raceway, a 3 quarter-mile D shaped racetrack, with grandstands completely around it which can seat a 86,000 + fans. For years a close friend and I would go, we would drive down for the Busch Car race in Sept. on the Friday before the Winston Cup cars raced on Saturday. Back then (15 yrs ago) you couldn’t get a seat for the Winston Cup race, but you could always do a walk up on the night the Busch Cars were racing. One year Gary couldn’t go and I invited Allison. She jumped at the opportunity to go, and even invited Casey (of dorm room fame) to come with us. I never had so much fun. The girls got so excited picked favorite cars purely on how “cute” they looked, and loved the noise. For those who haven’t been to a NASCAR event, your heart will get into a rhythm with the engines of these cars as they go by. The excitement is almost unbearable at times. Anyway the girls and I did the Richmond race for 2 years, and then they were out of school beginning their own careers and I was preparing to move to Florida.
Here in Florida, there are several racetracks close enough to drive to for an evening of racing fun and I have done it many a time, though the last couple of years have been a touch more difficult on the lungs, but I still love it. I do try to avoid dirt tracks these days for obvious reasons. Now I spend at least part of each weekend watching NASCAR on TV.
Folks, to be honest with you, I was going to use my love of stockcar racing as a transition into how that love manifested itself into me going go-cart racing at every opportunity and all over the world. Which I did, up to 4 years ago. It seems the owners of go-cart race tracks are a bit skittish, when a guy toting a portable oxygen machine, tries to get into one of their carts. Go figure!
Because I have had so much fun over my life riding and racing go carts, I will most likely write about it soon because it is fresh on my memory card. But until then I hope you enjoyed this story about me. As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated. Please take care, Bill.