And Stomped that Sucker Flat!
In 1982, Lewis Grizzard wrote a book entitled “They Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat.” Quote from the book jacket… “In the process he discovers all the ways a heart can break. Young love. Three marriages. His father's death and why his entire future suddenly depended on a little pig.
Unfortunately, that title best described my Daytona Coke Zero 400 Saturday, back on July 1st. Oh, there was none of the examples listed in the book teaser. No young love, failed marriage, loss or medical emergency - just a broken heart.
It started out innocently enough. It was Saturday afternoon, late. Chores were done. The rain delayed the June 30th Coca-Cola 250 Xfinity race from Daytona to this afternoon and it had just restarted. I had hopes to settle in to watch some racing.
My wife reminded me to not get too comfortable. If we wanted to beat the dinner crowd and get back for the Cup race that evening we probably should get going. She suggested we try a new (for us) restaurant in nearby Georgetown, so we’d have a bit of travel to factor in as well.
Georgetown is a quaint little community, located about 15 miles east and just north of the Horse Capital of the World - Lexington, KY. It has grown by leaps and bounds since the auto plant came to town, but it still has a small town feel. That's why it's so difficult to believe that something like this could happen here.
The evening started out so nice. Weather was ideal for a drive and when we arrived we found a parking place by the establishment’s front door. I liked the place as soon as we walked in - casual, but not too. The numerous huge TVs gave it a sports bar feel but the plush booths throughout provided some privacy. The menu was casual as well, reasonably priced and they had my kind of portions - enhanced. The hostess and wait staff were pleasant, knowledgeable and attentive. Together, the place just had a really nice feel to it and in a weird sort of way reminded me of one of our other favorites - Lulu’s in Gulf Shores, AL.
But then it happened. Right there in the middle of this place.
To understand what happened you need a little more background. Georgetown KY may sound familiar to you. Most likely it's because of the auto plant there. Goes by the name of TMMK, better known as Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky. Most folks just call them Toyota. The Georgetown plant is Toyota's largest manufacturing facility in the world. It's there where in addition to the Lexus ES350, the Avalon and its hybrid, they build the Camry and its hybrid. Most folks have heard of Camry. You may drive one. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. do on the Cup circuit. Daniel Suarez did when he drove one to last year's Xfinity Championship.
Don't get me wrong-Georgetown is not Charlotte or Daytona but with Toyota here you would think there would be some interest in cars and in car racing. In addition to Toyota, the Ford Truck Assembly plant is a little over an hour away. Add another hour and you are at the Corvette plant in Bowling Green KY. Georgetown is less than a half-hour from the national headquarters of racing sponsor Valvoline and is just an hour from Bruton Smith’s track at Sparta - the same track where NASCAR would be racing the following weekend.
For the previous three weeks the airwaves and print media has been plastered with ads for it and Georgetown’s leading employer has partnered with NASCAR to become the “Official Vehicle of the Kentucky Speedway.”
Long way to say that here, someone should care about a race from Daytona.
As the hostess led us to our booth I couldn't help but notice 10 big screen TVs visible throughout and all turned to sporting events. Great, I’m going to get to see the end of the race! But as I walked past the last of the 10 TVs you could hear my heart being torn out of my chest. Two TVs were tuned into a Major League Baseball game, while the remaining eight were locked into… GOLF!
Golf?!? Golf?!?! OK, I kinda get it. Kentuckian Kenny Perry is a popular golfer and was kicking tail in the US Seniors Open that day, but eight TVs tuned to Golf and not a single one tuned to Daytona where your hometown cars were racing?
I was stunned. You’d think the owner of the place would have one tuned in just out of courtesy to the employer of probably a sizable portion of his customer base. We were early, but there was a decent crowd already there and sadly, apparently not one soul in there had requested a channel change. Unbelievable.
I sat there and tried to enjoy the meal and process what I was seeing here. More people started coming in and the place started to fill, but nary a TV was changed from MLB and GOLF.
We were nearing the end of our otherwise pleasant meal when our waitress came back to check on us. I couldn't stand it anymore and had to say something… but wished I hadn't. It went something like this…
She: How are you all doing? Is there anything else I can get for you?
Me: I think we’re doing fine, but I was wondering if it would be possible to turn one of these TV’s to the race.
She: The race? I didn't know there was a horse race running now.
Admittedly I had forgotten where I was and how in different areas words take on different meanings. I’m sure that around Daytona, Charlotte, Indianapolis or back home the word “race” automatically means “car race.” It’s just the way it is. Here, in this part of the Bluegrass, surrounded by a passel of thoroughbred farms, with the Kentucky Horse Park within spitting distance, Keeneland (famous horse-race track) at their back door and Churchill Downs (an even more famous horse-race track) an hour away, here, the word “race” means “horse race.”
She was young. She didn't know. It wasn't mean-spirited and she meant no harm by it. But I have to admit it still hurt.
I managed a weak grin and tried to muster a reply. Again, I should have stopped right there... but like watching a plate race and knowing the wreck was coming, I couldn't help but press on.
Me: I’m sorry, I meant a car race …
Before I could finish, she got a proud grin on her face and finished my sentence for me…
Her: Oh, you mean the Indianapolis 500?
Smiling more weakly now, I said what I should have said at the very first-
Me: Right now there is a car race in Daytona Beach FL. They are racing stock cars; some of those racing are Camrys like they build here at Toyota. I was kinda interested to see how they were doing and wondered if one of the TVs could be switched over to it?
She: I’ll see what I can do.
We sat there for another 10 minutes or so. Saw nary a lap of the race, but had no trouble seeing plenty of Kenny Perry play Golf. That's OK. I can appreciate good play. Besides, it was time to leave if we wanted to get back in time to see the 400 pre-race.
So I paid. Left her a nice tip as overall she did a very nice job. She tried… she really did. I don't think she really meant anything by it. Sometimes, when there is something on the floor unnoticed like that you just can't help but step on it.
I didn't leave mad. Didn't say anything else, but admit reflecting on what had transpired there on the drive home. It made me realize how different things are today and that hit me hard. This establishment originally opened in a different location in 2008. There was a time, shortly before they opened none of this would have ever happened, because back then over half of those TVs would have been tuned to the race, a few to baseball and the remainder to… Golf!
Shortly after they opened you would have walked in and the race would have been on at least one TV. Guaranteed. More recently, you may have found that none of the TVs was turned to the race but someone during the time there would have asked for a change and one would have been flipped over.
Toda… well, you know the story.
Some might say it was just savvy business sense, just satisfying the changing customer interests. You know at Sonoma, the final broadcast by FOX, the race did get its TV ratings butt kicked by… Golf.
Or maybe it was because the race had been rained out and they didn't know when it restarted. In this day and time when there is an app to notify you of anything that didn't seem possible. Plus, if they cared about their customers, who are fans of NASCAR, they would have known and made sure that one was tuned in.
Even sadder, you would think at least one customer (besides me) in the half-filled place would have known or cared to ask for a channel change but apparently that wasn't the case either.
I pondered all this for a while as we rode back home. I could see this happening somewhere else, somewhere where cars and their racing don't mean anything to anyone. Or happen at a place where Golf means everything. But this is Georgetown. Lots of the people here work at the plant or in the surrounding satellite industries. Those who don’t are kin to or know someone who does. Or they drive or know someone who drives one of the products made there. It didn't make sense. Or maybe it did and I really didn't want to admit it.
You would think that ripping a person’s heart out would be a crime. If it were, could these folks be charged? As I looked at the evidence of that day’s events, I’m not sure. You see, there was a time when if I went into a place like this, if the race wasn't on, I’d immediately ask for the channel to be changed to the race before placing my order. If it wasn't changed, I’d leave. And I wouldn't be back. And I’d be sure to tell everyone else as well. Then again, there was a time I wouldn't leave the house for a meal if a race was on.
But that was then and this is now. The world has changed. Racing has changed. So have I. I think a fair defense lawyer could probably make a case that these folks are innocent and can't be charged for the crimes mentioned above. To be charged with ripping a heart out, a heart must be present. Evidence clearly shows that it was forcibly removed years ago. By whom… it doesn't really matter. The statute of limitations have long since expired.
With that long gone all that remains is hope.
Hope for a better day.
Hope for a better race.
Hope that one day I’ll get to see it.
A Few More Words - Shortly before this occurrence, I was checking my hometown newspaper on-line and in the obituaries a name caught my eye - Narl Drury Sr., age 76. That name may not mean much to you but growing up, he was one of the local racers in those parts. Drove the prettiest blue coupe. It was a beaut… and fast. Number 99, I seem to recall, but don't hold me too it. Too many laps have passed. Narl was fast. Narl was good.
The most memorable race I remember seeing him run was at Windy Hollow Speedway, a 3/8-mile, D-shaped dirt oval. He was typical Narl. Very fast and very smooth. When the checkered flag fell, he was first. When he came around to get the flag for his victory lap, he stopped. Something was odd as it took him a long time to get out of the car. He actually had to be helped out (which is no small feat in a coupe). They propped him up against the car and it was evident he was in pain. I overheard another fan next to us say Narl had just been released from the hospital earlier that day. Surgery. Big. Wasn't supposed to be in a car that night… but was… and won.
Narl was truly a racer. It hurt to see he’d taken his final Checkered Flag, but I rejoice in the memory of seeing him run, race and win. I rejoice knowing he is celebrating in his eternal Victory Lane.
Race on, Narl. Race on.