A Twilight Happy Ending And Sunshine On The Horizon
I bid you welcome gentle readers and as always, a cordial welcome also to our assigned NASCAR reader for today. Ah, today… early November, when the majority of autumn’s panorama of color now lies on the ground, either soaked by a chilling rain or blown about on a biting wind. The bright blue skies of October have given ‘way to a heavy dark grey, threatening cover that serves as herald of the impending winter. It reminds me of a song by Gordon Lightfoot… but we’ll get to that later. Right now, it’s time to talk for a bit of pretty little Martinsville and then move on to Texas, where we are told that everything is bigger, if not better.
Martinsville! What can I say? Over the years I’ve written so much of what is good about this little jewel at the foot of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and this year will be no exception. First up for kudos this day is the addition of 1600’ of SAFER barriers to the tiny track, meaning everything that a car can reach is now protected with the exception of the inside of the two tiny turns.
You can see where your scribe has lent her untrained hand to the outside straightaways, each measuring 800’ in length, which comprise the new addition. I’m sure there is a gate or two or three in there, but having no map to copy from, I gave it my best simplistic shot. You all get the idea.
Would you like to hear a little day-brightener? On Saturday morning, after hearing about the new addition on Friday, I dropped a little “Thank You” note to Clay Campbell, President of Martinsville Speedway, telling him of my year-long involvement in the push to get SAFER barriers everywhere and thanking him for complying with the wishes of all the fans that care and bringing our tiniest track almost to code in a single addition. I expected no answer, certainly not on the day before the big Cup race and the day of the truck race. Within 4 minutes, his answer came. It was short and sweet, as he had to be a very busy man that Saturday morning, but it was sincere and personal… not something prepared earlier on a computer. I wonder how many others would respond in such a way. Perhaps Roger Curtis would (Michigan) but I cannot think of another. A million thanks to Clay Campbell, just for being who you are. Please, don’t ever change!
Ah yes, and then there was the race itself. The day dawned under very threatening skies and even a worse outlook for later. However, whether you go for the vortex theory or an answer to many prayers, the race started almost on time, with a damp track forcing the first several laps to be run under the yellow flag… to finish drying and get heat in the track to stave off the tiny mist that continued to surround the area.
The race, as expected at a tiny one-groove track, was marred by several cautions… 18 to be exact, two of which were the drying laps at the start and a competition caution scheduled by NASCAR, which came at lap 52. In total, 109 laps were run under yellow and 391 under green, with Joey Logano leading 207 of them. Toward the end, with about 45 laps remaining, the red flag was flown while they cleaned up the mess created by a bit of “payback.”
The mess in question was the one brought about when Matt Kenseth decided that Logano was not going to win 4 in a row and clearly and brutally drove the #22 from the lead, all the way up and into the wall, eventually causing more damage to his own car than Logano’s. Neither car would finish the race, Logano because of damage to the car and Kenseth because NASCAR is not blind and parked him for the duration of the race. Kenseth, by the way, had not led a single lap in the race and was 9 laps down to the leaders at the time.
At this juncture, I’m going to do something I almost never do, and offer my thoughts on the actions of both drivers. At Kansas, the race was for the win, coming in the waning laps. Logano, for what it’s worth, seemed to have the faster car, but was blocked by Kenseth several times when attempting to pass. Finally, as will always happen with blocking, Logano swung low and when Kenseth attempted yet another block, Joey was there and took no evasive action. The result was Matt in the wall and Joey in Victory Lane.
At Martinsville, the win would be some time coming yet, and Kenseth never attempted a pass. Rather, he seemed intent on causing as much damage as possible to the #22. It seems of late that this is what the “Chase” begets. Grown men with families acting like school children, settling their disputes with cars rather than having the courage to meet somewhere after the race and settle their differences like men… either by talking things out or by the time-honored method of exchanging a few punches, then going for a beer together.
In this instance, Matt Kenseth proved to be the biggest baby of the bunch. It is only Monday morning as I write, so we’ll all know on Tuesday what NASCAR thinks is the proper way to handle misbehaving children.
We interrupt this column to bring you the following news from Tuesday!
It is Wednesday morning, and the penalties were issued at 5:58 on Tuesday evening, just in time to make the 6:00 news. A happy coincidence? I think not, but it doesn’t matter. NASCAR gave the equivalent of sending Matt to his room without supper and grounding him for a couple of weeks. In other words, a 2-week suspension from NASCAR racing and 6 months of NASCAR double-secret probation. Joe Gibbs Racing, as expected, filed an immediate appeal, and according to NBCSN, where I first heard the news, NASCAR says there will be a hearing on the appeal as early as this morning (Wednesday) or as soon as they can schedule it. Time will be allowed to file another appeal to Gulfstream President Bryan Moss, NASCAR’s final appeals judge this year, if the first appeal is denied. All of this is said to be history before the race at Texas, so that no miscarriage of justice can be claimed.
This scribe is not always kind to NASCAR and the way things are handled with total inconsistency, but this time, I feel congratulations are in order. NASCAR got it right!
It’s bad enough to have the little emperor running the show, but allowing the nonsense we watched on Sunday to continue unabated would be tantamount to turning the asylum over to the inmates. What I’m really sorry about is that this “mess” served to somewhat taint an otherwise upbeat and sunlit column. Now, back to our regular column, already in progress.
Oh, but there was such a bright side to all the bumping, banging and crashing that is Martinsville at its best. At the conclusion of the race, it was the familiar face of Jeff Gordon being awarded by Clay Campbell the winner’s trophy at Martinsville, the famous Ridgeway Grandfather’s Clock. Clay brought with him another surprise for Jeff, when he announced that Jeff had been selected as winner of the H. Clay Earles Award. The award, given for “Outstanding Dedication to Auto Racing”, was established in 2000 and is named for Martinsville Speedway Founder and Clay’s grandfather, H. Clay Earles. Some former winners include Bill France Jr., Chris Economaki, Bill Joyner, Junie Donleavy and Dick Thompson.
“Jeff Gordon is one of the greatest drivers NASCAR has ever seen,” Campbell said. “However, if you look at what he has meant to the sport – the commitment he has made to it and the role he played in helping grow it to a popularity never seen before – that’s what I’ll think of when I look back on his career and that’s what the H. Clay Earles Award is all about.”
Here are just a few moments from the celebration in Victory Lane.
Well gentle readers, it was Martinsville at her short track best. It’s a shame that the November weather kept a lot of fans out of the stands and watching from warm, dry living rooms, but the ending was purely the stuff dreams are made of. It was a storybook ending, to be sure, with the hero quite literally riding off into the sunset. Winning this race puts our retiring 4-time Champion into the final round of that Chase thing, and who knows? With a little luck, Jeff Gordon could say good-bye and retire to the broadcasting booth at season’s end as a reigning Champion. Now that, gentle readers, would complete a true Fairytale ending to a great career… and they all lived happily ever after…
As promised, now we move on to Texas, where there seems to have been a change of heart about SAFER barriers. Instead of the “Are you talking to me?” attitude of earlier this year, the following statement was issued by the Speedway on October 15, 2015.
“FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The entire inside wall of the backstretch at Texas Motor Speedway and the interior walls at the entry and exit of pit road will have energy-absorbing barriers in place when NASCAR races there in two weekends.”
“There were already SAFER barriers on high-impact exterior walls at the 1 1/2-mile track, but speedway officials said Wednesday that the installation of an additional 2,866 feet to select areas should be completed this week.”
“Along with the inside walls, SAFER barriers are being added to three exterior sections on the frontstretch, directly across from the entry and exit of the pits, and at the start-finish line.”
“Another 2,103 feet of safety barrier will be installed before NASCAR returns next April, and every wall will be protected following a third phase after that.”
Another victim of my not too clever alterations to the map, here is somewhat how the track will look for Sunday’s race.
No, it won’t be done entirely, but that is in the plans and I do commend Eddie Gossage and the Texas gang for hearing our pleas for the safety of the drivers. We know it takes time, but time is running out before we see another death. Thanks Eddie, and all involved in taking us seriously and acting responsibly in procuring the addition of SAFER barriers all around Texas Motor Speedway. The fans, and especially the drivers, appreciate the effort.
Gentle readers, I won’t lie to you. At times I become so discouraged with the turns that racing has taken over the past decade that I silently wonder if I can go on writing about it. Is it worth the heartache? Then, we enjoy a week like this one, where everything seemingly goes right. I was so happy to tell you that not one but two more tracks have stepped up and significantly improved their SAFER barrier protection, and I was privileged to write about Jeff Gordon’s heart-string plucking victory at Pretty Little Martinsville, where neither inclement weather nor impending darkness could cast a dark shadow over the elation and warmth that it created in the hearts of all true race fans.
Yes! That’s the feeling I remember, though it seems it’s been so very long since I’ve felt it. It’s a feeling that no human hand can conjure up and no board room full of folks wearing suits and ties can create with gimmicks. It is in no way a “business;” it is the joy that real racing brings to the heart, not to the purse. It’s the excitement that moves you out of your seat and onto your feet, screaming for your favorite to make it to that checkered flag before the other guy. It’s the tears that well up in your eyes when realizing that it is done and he has won. I’d dare to say that whether Jeff Gordon wins it all at Homestead or not, this race at Martinsville will stand tall among a lot of lesser races, much as does the 1992 finale at Atlanta. Of course, if Jeff wins at Homestead… then we’ll have a different set of memories to keep as this great driver bids a final farewell to stock car racing and to us, the fans.
That happy little banjo means it’s time now for our Classic Country Closeout, and as promised at the beginning of this monologue, here is Gordon Lightfoot, doing his most memorable song, “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald.”
For the rest of the songs today we’ll stick with the “Happy” songs, and here is one I’ve always loved. If anyone knows who the whistler is on this song, please post it for the rest of us. It is so lovely! Here then is Marvin Rainwater singing what I believe was his biggest hit, “Gonna Find Me a Bluebird.”
I know we’ve heard this one before, but it’s so upbeat and happy, unlike most of the songs this man sang. This is Hank Williams Sr., singing “Settin’ the Woods on Fire.” Let the toe-tapping begin!
The last one for today is in the comedy vein I guess. Every song sung by this duet was done tongue in cheek and this one is no different. Here are Red (Foley) and Ernest (Tubb) singing “The Chicken Song (I Ain’t Gonna Take it Settin’ Down.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!