I grew up in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. My first recollection of stock car racing came when I heard that Richard Petty was going to be at Greenville Pickens Speedway. I didn’t get to see him then, but later, Greenville Pickens Speedway became an important place in my life.
In the old days, NASCAR drivers used to test cars at Greenville Pickens because it’s flat banked curves were very similar to Martinsville Speedway. They can’t do that anymore, because of some stupid NASCAR rules or whatnot. Whatnot is pretty much what life is about these days, in case you haven’t been paying attention.
I used to live very near Anderson Motor Speedway in Anderson, South Carolina. A lot of people complained about the noise, but I never did. The sound of motors revving to impossible capacities was music to my ears. I went to the track a lot because after the first race started, they didn’t really see or care if people came in without paying or not. I paid; just saying.
NASCAR is very much like the NFL, or the NBA, or Major League Baseball… or even soccer, I suppose. All sports need a feeder system. Most stick and ball sports use high schools and colleges as feeder systems. NASCAR is a little different.
Local short tracks, paved or not, are where tomorrow’s NASCAR stars get their start. Sometimes it’s Go-Kart racing. In Jimmie Johnson’s case, it was dirt bikes. Whatever it is, we need to support it. Futures are being made on short tracks all over the world.
Back in the old days, drivers often built their own cars and engines to race. I’m a fan of that convention, but I’m not opposed to having drivers who just exude natural talent, and don’t have to get their hands dirty. Dads and moms who buy their special someone a Go-Kart or a late-model racer are great people, especially when little Johnny or Suzy grows up to be a fantastic racecar driver.
In my own experience, I used to want to be just like Richard Petty. That was in the days before guys like Waltrip or Earnhardt came along. I wanted to be Richard, and kiss pretty girls after I won the race and climbed out of the race car. Mostly, I wanted to kiss pretty girls, but that’s beside the point.
I have always admired people who came up hard, as we used to say. They weren’t given anything, but they accomplished things that might have seemed impossible to do when they were getting started. Go to your local race track; pay the price for admittance, and you’ll see young folks like that, or even old folks who never gave up on the dream either. It’s all good. If you like racing, and if you’re reading this, you probably already know what I’m talking about. If you’re good enough, and believe in yourself, you can do just about anything.
I grew up driving lawn mowers and graduated to a Ford 9N tractor that I used to bush hog the pastures with before I was legally eligible to drive a car. On that Ford, going maybe 4 mph, I thought I was Richard Petty, and David Pearson, and Bobby Allison. I thought I could outrun even King Richard if we were on Ford 9N tractors. If Dale Inman had been working on Richard’s tractor, I probably would have been wrong.
The important thing here is that local tracks may annoy people, but they are important if you believe in this sport. Sports have feeder systems, and your local track is where possibly the next racing star gets his start. Support your local tracks. Allow the new talent to have a place to flex their muscles and show what they can do. Jimmie Johnson didn’t just show up at Rick Hendrick’s door one day to fill out a job application. If you go and support your local track, maybe one day, when you’re as old as I am, you can say “Hey, I knew that driver when he was too short to climb into the race car!”
As an aside, I still support Greenville Pickens Speedway when I can. Years ago, a guy named Ralph Earnhardt raced here, and then his son Dale did as well. Even after Dale became famous, he would come down here for the Fair and sign autographs. I saw drivers like Robert Pressley shake Dale’s hand. Dale’s story was a classic rags to riches story, and he started out racing on local tracks, like the one a few miles down the road from you. Also, as an aside, I still like to kiss pretty girls. Ok, I’ll admit it, I just like kissing girls… pretty or otherwise.
Your local track is just like the track that people such as Richard Petty came from. It’s just like the track where Dale Earnhardt learned his skills. It’s just like the track that a thousand other drivers you’ve never heard of got their start, but the important thing is that we need new talent every year, whether in the ARCA series, Trucks, Xfinity, or Cup. They all have to start somewhere, and local tracks are where that’s at.
I like to think of local short tracks, paved, or dirt, as I would my local high school. Someday, a senator or a president might graduate from your local high school. I hope that someday I can say “Hey, I knew that guy when he was an idiot. How did he get to be a champion?”
Chances are, if you live in the USA or Canada, there is a track not far from you. It’s a great way to get to smell the racing fuel and shredded tires without spending your kid’s college tuition.