I bid you welcome gentle readers, and warn you that this will be a mixed bag of emotions today. Let’s begin with what is foremost in my mind this Saturday morning. My dear friend and a contributor to this site right up to the end of last season, Barbara “B.J.” Brown, passed away early this morning. B.J. was a race fan of the old school sort. She loved her racing much the same as does this old lady. I don’t know, because it wasn’t important to ask, but I find myself hoping she was able to watch even a small part of FOX Network’s presentation of “A Perfect Storm” on Friday evening. If so, I’m sure it brought her one of the final smiles of her life.
No, you’ll not hear me say something trite such as, “She lost her battle with cancer.” She’d come back to call BS on that line. She didn’t lose the battle. She looked cancer square in the face and faced it down. She, not that damn disease, chose her last minutes on earth. She ended the treatments and she called the day and hour of departure. I know God will have His hands full with her there in Heaven, but she’ll show Him how to get it done right. Please allow me to share with you this short eulogy I made for Barbara; then we’ll get on with racing things.
It was only perhaps an hour after learning of the loss of Barbara that a letter came to my inbox from another dear friend, Dr. Matthew Gillian, recently retired from 33 years of duty as nighttime DJ at WSM, Nashville, the unchallenged home of Country Music. His letter was written on a topic already under discussion here on Race Fans Forever, the piece presented Friday night on FOX Network’s FS1 entitled, “A Perfect Storm.” I know he won’t mind if I share his letter with you, gentle readers. He has given me permission to do that at my discretion.
Hi Patty Kay!
Just had to write you this morning with a few observations...
I turned on the TV this morning and found the 1979 Daytona 500 (which was Richard Petty's 6th win).
I was struck by the simplest little gems in this race. It was the first time Dale Earnhardt had led a lap in his career. There were so many rookies amongst the field who went onto NASCAR history. All of the "old pros" of The Great American Race. And to think 1/3 of the race was run under caution. 15.1-million folks watched it on the first ever flag-to-flag broadcast on CBS. There were some spectacular wrecks, amazing driving, fist fights and duels unequalled in today's racing.
I was very struck at how much more exciting the entire race was versus the anemic performances of today! It was still a spectacle and a show, with such an energy about the competition. The race was grittier, more dynamic, hardcore and daring somehow, than what we get each week nowadays while bouncing around the channels trying to find the race. I really can't put my finger on any "one thing" that was so different... Maybe it's the cars themselves? Maybe it's the science and technology of the sport that has made it so vastly different? The cars seemed so incredibly monstrous, sturdier and just plain tougher back then. I liken them more to a Gladiator’s suit of armor with very few frills. Landmark cars from Oldsmobile, Buick, Ford, Mercury, Dodge and Chevrolet, representing the finest of American automobiles. Everything about NASCAR was powerful, raw and extremely real! Again, unlike today. The fans were rabid, loud, and almost maniacal in their reverence to the sport and the drivers. The heroes and characters seemed to be much larger than they are now - and much more humble, quieter and classy than this generation.
Maybe it's just me, maybe not. But, there is definitely a widely marked comparison between yesteryear and now in my eyes.
It seems the "racing did the talking" and points weren't the ultimate goal. The drivers seemed to drive more for the trophy and fans than for anything else. Sponsorships didn't rule the world and owners were not monopolies.
I realized how much I missed the racing of those years and wish to hell I'd paid more attention to it then.
But, we know that all things must change and move forward.
I'm reminded of these words of truth from a popular Lincoln MKC car commercial;
"Sometimes, you gotta go back... To actually move forward... to see where you're goin'... I know there are those who say - you can't go back... Yes, you can! Just have to look in the right place."
- Matthew McConaughey, 2014
In the end, with all things being relatively equal, I sure enjoyed going back to the brutal old school of the genuine American sport of NASCAR Racing! What a race, what an era - what a sport!
And my answer follows:
It’s really true. When God feels we need an angel, He sends one, and you Matthew, are my angel of the day. I’ll start by telling you that a close friend, Barbara J. Brown, left this morning to become an Angel of God. It was not unexpected. BJ had been very ill for a very long time. You might recall she was part of our “Fast Forward” page last year, but had to decline this year because of health. She never even made it to the Daytona 500. I’m sitting here trying to work, but tears keep dimming my vision. She, feisty lady that she was, would kick my ass for that, so whatever I accomplish today will be for her, because of her.
I’m guessing that what you watched was a production called, “A Perfect Storm”, which originally aired last night following practice for the Sprint Unlimited. I am usually a hard-bitten old news lady that has little time for the fluff of today, but at the time I had nothing better to do, so I stayed with it, and I will never regret doing so. I can almost recite that race. I know you let a typo slip by, as in no way was that only the King’s 6th win. It was, in fact, his 186th, and came only 5 years before his last, in 1984. Since watching that program, I have spoken nothing but praise for it, and I have read nothing but good things, penned by all manner of folks. Quite often, as in most of the time, I see FOX Network as the “We don’t give a damn” site on my TV dial. Witness endless years of folks named Waltrip bringing you the race du jour and I’m sure you’ll see my point.
The cars were bigger and burlier back in 1979. That was two years before they made the change that made cars fly; they went from those giant steel fire-breathing beasts to the much smaller cars of the 1980s, smaller in structure, engines, wheel bases and everything but speed. Steel soon gave way to the composite of the day until now, my plastic coated house is tougher than my plastic coated car. The drivers were more colorful, without a doubt. That was still before the sponsors called every shot. The teams, and the men behind the wheels, were in it to win it, as they say. There was no other reason to be there. When they said that second place was just the first loser, they meant it. There was no such thing as “having a good points day” or “looking at the big picture.”
Above all though, was a point I have tried time and time again to get across to my readers, perhaps with some success, but not nearly enough, as it’s a hard concept to capture in the right words. We were not dead in 1979, just as we are not dead now. We can be swayed in one direction or another by a well-placed word. The men you heard throughout that broadcast, Ken Squier, David Hobbs, Chris Economacki were trained more in radio than TV. They knew how to paint word pictures for the audience so well that just listening, you would swear you were seeing. They brought that talent to the table that day in 1979, and they described what they were seeing, feeling, hearing and smelling with unfailing accuracy. Not one word was spoken by any one of them that did not pertain directly to the race at hand. Call me crazy, but that, dear friend, is what has changed the most. Yes, the drivers are “prettier” and much better spoken, so as to represent the sponsor of the year in the best possible light. The race somehow became secondary to the “business.” When that happened, the fans stopped coming and stopped caring in the way they did back then. Who cheers for a damn business? No one. We cheer for the racers, and we cheer loudest for the winner. That’s the difference that no one is catching.
If you get a chance, watch that program again, and consider as you do what I’ve said here. I think it will become very clear to you. See, I was one that did pay attention back then. I loved what I saw in racing as much as I ever loved any man. They took that away, and I resent that. It shows in my writing, as I struggle to keep those word pictures of yesteryear alive for other generations.
Thomas Wolfe told us “You can’t go home again”, and you can’t, to stay, but we can damn well go back for a visit, and it we were smart, we’d learn from the trip.
Hugs and Happy Valentine’s Day to you,
And back to Matthew for one more:
I'm so sorry to hear of her passing... I'm glad I could do a flyover for you to take your mind away for a bit.
You should use your email back to me as your article this week - simply words of truth and wisdom with perfectly placed points of fact! You've written the very words I was searching for!
Yes, I meant to say it was the King's 6th Daytona - of course. It was a great show to watch!
Try to have a better afternoon and be happy you are still here to aggravate, exacerbate, inspire and set fire to the butts that need it! Thank you for your friendship and love!
He did write back to wish me a happy Valentine’s Day, which he neglected to do here. Matthew, thank you so much for the idea of making a column from my letter to you. It made today easier by far, so as I said earlier, you really were my Angel today. Time now for our Classic Country Closeout. I’m sure you’ll approve of my choices on this especially sad day. First up is one that Hank Williams both wrote and sang, “When God Comes and Gathers His Jewels.”
Next is one of my all-time favorites. This is Red Foley, doing the song he made ever-popular so many years ago, “Peace in the Valley.” Please enjoy…
One more… this is one of the oldest Country songs around, but it’s still heard very often and done by a wide variety of singers in as wide a variety of styles. For today, I’ve chosen a live version performed by Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash with family. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
I love you Barbara!
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!