I bid you welcome gentle readers, to a quiet Sunday morning in the North Georgia hills, but as I type, I’m reminded everywhere that in the short space of a week, there will be cars on the track at Daytona. Indeed, one week from today, the Sprint Unlimited will be but another page in racing history and pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 will be starting that very afternoon. Gone is Old Man Winter. Well, OK, not gone, but being held at bay for a bit as the 2015 racing season shrugs off the last vestiges of a long winter’s nap and the cars take to the big track once again.
Each year at this time, it’s always the same. Race fans everywhere turn the water cooler talk to the impending start of the new season, and they speak as one of the high hopes that always come with the Daytona 500. This morning, as I read parts of a conversation taking place on Twitter between half a dozen or so friends, all talk was upbeat and expectant of all the good things to come with the new season almost upon us. Then, being probably every inch the pessimist I’m sometimes accused of being, my thoughts wandered to a fact I knew to be true, but upon seeking out the entire story, found it to be downright dejecting.
Gentle readers, this is something I’ve mentioned several times… Daytona International Speedway has claimed more lives than any other track in America. (I believe that Le Mans holds the world title for fatalities, due to that horrendous day in 1955 when a car went into the grandstands, killing the driver, some 85 spectators and injuring many more.)
The last column on these pages centered around an article written on the death of NASCAR’s brightest star, Dale Earnhardt, and yes, that article will run again here, just a bit closer to the day we had to bid our final farewell to that great driver, son, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, friend, tutor and so much more. But here my friends, is something most of you did not know.
Daytona not so proudly claims 36 fatalities within its hallowed walls. Please, let that sink in for a moment. Those deaths include 22 car drivers, 9 motorcyclists, 3 go-kart drivers, 1 powerboat racer, and 1 track worker. Even more surprising is the cold hard fact that SIX (6) of those occurred after the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500. That’s six deaths at this single track, all of which occurred in our new and supposedly “Safe” era. One of those six was from natural causes, but the gentleman is just as dead, and he died while on track at Daytona, enjoying a session with the Richard Petty Driving Experience.
Another of the six was a 17-year old Go-Karter that died in a crash on the infield road course. My instant reaction on reading that was, “What the Hell is a 17-year old doing racing anything at Daytona? It seems to me I recall a gentleman named A.J. Foyt sporting a rookie yellow stripe there once upon a time, because he had not raced on that giant Superspeedway before. Oh, you’re 17 and you drive a Go-Kart? Sure, go right ahead! Hope you set a land speed record today! Right! What could possibly go wrong? Sadly, we all know what could and did go wrong, and it’s gone wrong no less than 36 times on the unforgiving banks of Daytona International Speedway.
Spending $400 Million tax-payer dollars on “Daytona Rising” will not fix the very real problems there. It won’t bring back a single life lost racing against the big track. Not one cent of that vast sum will be spent in an effort to convince the Beach Suits that speeds should be lowered sufficiently to take off the restrictor plates and let the fast cars race only with themselves. Instead, it seems they stay up nights seeking ways to keep the cars tightly bunched in packs of 40 or so for longer periods of time. Sooner or later, someone is bound to make a mistake, and then it’s on! The Big One!
Don’t let them tell you they don’t love it. As the big race draws closer, pay special attention to the ads and come-ons you see on NASCAR programming. You already know it will be crash after crash after spectacular crash… cars spinning; cars flying; debris flying and smoke everywhere; cars upside down on their roofs and cars in the catch fence. NASCAR! Brian! Mike! Anyone that will listen… please clean up your act. While you’re attempting to sell seats by promising thrills, you need to stop and think that there are human beings in those crashing cars! Do you even have a clue how lucky we are not to have lost more drivers in the way we’ve already lost so many?
Marshall Teague February 11, 1959
George Amick April 4, 1959
Byrne E. Taylor June 14, 1959
Martin Every June 18, 1960
Haberling February 21, 1961
Billy Wade January 5, 1965
Don MacTavish February 22, 1969
Wayne Harris Bartz March 12, 1969
Talmadge “Tab” Prince February 19, 1970
Joe “Rusty” Bradley March 14, 1971
David Pearl July 31, 1971
Friday Hassler February 17, 1972
Don Williams February 17, 1979
Ricky Knotts February 14, 1980
Bruce Jacobi February 17, 1983
Francis Affleck February 7, 1985
Charles Ogle December 15, 1985
Joe Young February 13, 1987
James Kolman December 27, 1987
Randy Glenn February 27, 1988
Dale Robertson December 27, 1989
Julius “Slick” Johnson February 11, 1990
Joe Booher February 12, 1993
James Adamo March 7, 1993
Neil Bonnett February 11, 1994
Rodney Orr February 14, 1994
Michael Himes January 31, 1997
Roger Reiman March 4, 1997
Chris Tatro March 2, 2000
Dale Earnhardt February 18, 2001
Dirk Piz March 11, 2001
Stuart Stratton October 19, 2001
Michael Davis Jr. December 30, 2001
Bryan Cassell Jr. October 18, 2003
Roy H. Weaver III February 8, 2004
Robert Boswell February 3, 2008
May all their souls rest in peace. Smokey Yunick was right; they didn’t have to go that way!
And now gentle readers, it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout. Today your scribe is in the mood for some easy listening. This song was originally recorded by Cowboy Copas, and shortly thereafter became a huge hit and the song for which she’ll always be known… “The Tennessee Waltz”, by “The Singing Rage”, Miss Patti Page. The version I’ve chosen is an instrumental featuring strings only. I think you’ll find it quite lovely. I know Barb Jones will. This one’s for you dear friend…
Next, we have a love ballad from the 1950s, first done by Don Gibson, and later by Ray Charles. Today though, I’ve chosen to offer up “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by the best saxophone player ever to put his lips to that instrument, the one and only Boots Randolph.
Finally, we have an old-timer from the Tennessee Plowboy, Eddy Arnold, doing one of my all-time favorites, “You Don’t Know Me.” This one was written by Cindy Walker for Arnold, but was actually recorded first by Jerry Vale. Both renditions made the Charts, but for this Country gal, it was Eddy, hands down, that stole the show in 1956. Please enjoy…
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!