Characters Add Character to Racing
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and as always a smile and a nod toward our assigned reader of all things pertaining to NASCAR. We hope you enjoy your stay with us today and I bet this column will be the most fun and perhaps the most informative of all you peruse this day as well.
Did we all enjoy the Throwback Weekend at Darlington? I now find that weekend the one I look forward to with greater anticipation than any other through the year, even Daytona. I’m sure it’s an age thing, but seeing some of those wonderful old paint schemes brought to life another time just warms this old heart and lowers my resentment meter a few degrees.
One of my favorites, Clint Bowyer’s Throwback to Mark Martin’s Busch series ride with Bill Davis in the Carolina Ford Dealers Ford was far too short lived as Clint recorded a not so sparkling 18 laps before his engine shut off and refused to go again, earning him a spot in Brock Beard’s “Last Car” listing this week.
Another bright spot for this oldster was seeing the original Levi Garrett colors of Rick Hendrick’s #5 car circling the track for the last time, not with Geoff Bodine at the wheel, but Kasey Kahne with sponsor, Great Clips. It matters little now, as next year Kahne, Great Clips and the #5 itself will be gone from Hendrick… and time keeps marching on.
The winning car was a huge hit with a lot of the folks at Race Fans Forever as Denny Hamlin won with the colors of Jack Tant’s “Flying 11” as it was driven by Ray Hendrick, aka “Mr. Modified.” If you missed seeing more of them, you can find at least the ones that I considered top-shelf in my last column.
Yes, I know that’s last week’s news, but the Throwback thing really is such fun for me, I hate to leave it. Despite the almost full house at Darlington, the overnight TV ratings came in a disappointing 1.7. That’s down from 3.4 in 2015 and 2.6 in 2016. Both were shown on NBC. This year, the race was demoted to NBCSN. No further comment necessary.
The week upcoming made it difficult for me to even set up our Race Info page. Richmond has changed its name, dropping the word “International” from Richmond International Raceway, I believe so that the “RR” that’s left can be played off as “Richmond Reimagined.” Well, that’s nice. They have tons of space for reimagining something, since their entire backstretch seating no longer exists. See the blue field in this 2011 10-Year Remembrance of 9/11/2001? Well, it’s all gone today, yet 6 years ago, as one can plainly see, it was full.
OK, that’s depressing, and I hate being the one to cause a downer, so let’s move on. Over the past weekend some friends and I got into a discussion of how nice it would be to “Throwback” some of the characters from racing or race tracks. You know, folks not really “involved” in the race itself, but always a part of the scene. Since we all share different backgrounds and come from different parts of this great country, I wasn’t familiar with most of the folks they mentioned. Remember, this old lady spent her younger days in Western New York State and had to travel long distances to visit the race tracks, so my knowledge of the small southern tracks was small as well. If it wasn’t a Winston Cup or Busch Series race, I probably wasn’t there.
That being the case, I really can’t speak with any authority about the folks they brought up, but I did have a couple of “Characters” of my own to contribute, so I’ll share those with you, my gentle readers. It’s been 24 years now since we left New York for the beautiful state of Georgia, but while we lived up there, Pocono Raceway was considered an annual occurrence for us, with reserved seats in the Terrace Club… up under the black and white striped awnings. I think it’s glassed in now, but it was open-air back then, and there was food… oh my, starting with coffee and doughnuts at whatever time you made it to the track after waiting out on I-80 for the little church on Hwy. 115 to let out before the State Police would open the Highway to double lanes of traffic going into the track.
Right around the time the race started, which was always circa 12:10, allowing just time after noon for the Invocation, Anthem and Command to start engines. Then it was 500 miles of racing and a non-stop, all-you-could-eat buffet with open bar and a private “facility.” Booking.YEAH!
But let’s back up for a minute to that ride down Hwy. 115. Almost at the track entrance, every single year without fail, there were 2 men there wearing very distinctive headgear and waving to the fans as the cars passed by. I’ve never really known the purpose of their being there, but for all the times we went, I sure would have missed them if they hadn’t been there. Seeing those men wave us in was kind of the same feeling you got when your Mom tucked you in and kissed you goodnight. All was well with the world, you know?
Photo from a Gene A. Card book, “Pocono Raceway.”
I notice in the photo that traffic is moving in a single lane. That tells me that the church service had not yet ended, and with traffic coming from both directions off the Interstate and feeding in from Long Pond Road to the left of the picture, and a couple other “back roads” known mostly to the locals, the going was at snail’s pace. Once the service ended, it picked right up to a turtle trot. Everyone had plenty of time to wave back to our Pocono “Greeters.” One of those in our conversation, my friend Dave Fulton, was kind enough to point me in the direction of the book, which I knew existed but could not bring to light. I never did know the story behind the hats, but that pair gave me something to look forward to for years.
My other contribution to the conversation was a character I only knew courtesy of ESPN, but we met him at some time during every Darlington race for quite a spell. The time frame had to be from the 1980s, as we didn’t get full races on TV before then, and there was no ESPN. The memorable character to which I refer wasn’t a human; he was a dog… but a dog with a very special talent not usually found in canine species. He was known far and wide as “Flatnose, the tree-climbing dog.” That tells you about all you need to know, but of course, I have a bit more. Thanks to Chase Whitaker for offering this video yesterday for our enjoyment. Please, ignore some of the less than complimentary comments below. A southern accent is NOT an indicator of intelligence level. However, the spelling and grammar of some of the commenters well might be.
The fame of Flatnose was not just local to the Darlington area. This short video shows Flatnose doing a stint on the Johnny Carson “Tonight Show.”
Johnny was quite an able handler of all species of animals. Ed McMahon, maybe not so much.
I’m secretly hoping that some of you might have met some characters in your race travels that made it more enjoyable for you, and that you’ll choose to share them with the rest of us.
Of course, the music signals that it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout, and this week we return to that wonderful series of Country shows with the stars of the 1950s. Please enjoy!
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!