Looking Back on the Beginning of The Chase
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and a warm welcome as well to our assigned reader of all things NASCAR, wherever he or she might be. Today’s piece is by request in order to placate a fan of the Lady in Black. Please don’t be confused by what will seem to be variances in time. This was written in 2004 and redone in 2014, so you will see reference to “10 years” and I’m not that far gone yet. I know it was 16 years since 2004, but in the interest of sanity… mine… I simply left it alone. You all know it’s not new, but I hope you still enjoy it.
Set the Scene:
It seems to your scribe that with all talk and hype being centered right now on the Chase, the whole Chase and nothing but the Chase, this would be the proper time to take a trip back through the years to where it all began. The year is 2004, or as I like to call it, "The beginning of the end of racing." Dale Earnhardt is gone; R.J. Reynolds has been driven from the American sports scene like a feral dog from a warm campfire and Bill France Jr., close to losing his battle with cancer, has handed the keys to the Kingdom over to his son, Brian.
Just as happened this past weekend, the year has come down to the last race before the then new and totally unprecedented "Chase" thing, which we in the media were advised not to refer to as a "playoff." Again, like this past weekend, the race we'll be reading about was run at Richmond International Raceway in beautiful Richmond, Virginia, Capital of the Confederacy.
Aren't we lucky then, that we have on hand a complete account of that race as told by my dear and irascible friend and alter ego, that raving reporter, the Lady in Black? As most know, the Lady had her own way of phrasing things that either endeared her to you or caused you to turn and run. Either way, her race reports tell it exactly as it happened. For those not familiar with the names employed by the Lady, a record of the entire race can be found at this link, courtesy of racing-reference.info.
As we read about this ten-year-old race, recall the bland, never-changing panorama of boredom we watched on Saturday night, where the highlight of the entire evening was when a rather inebriated person attempted to scale the catch fence, perhaps with a thought toward spurring on the combatants to make a race of it. Four lead changes between two drivers for 400 laps? Really??
Here then, without further ado, is the Lady in Black at her sarcastic best, exactly as she appeared on the pages of Insider Racing News on September 15, 2004. Please, enjoy!
The End of the Race to the Chase ~ Lady in Black
Good day race fans. This is your raving reporter, the Lady in Black, coming to you this week from historic old Richmond Virginia, capital of the Confederacy, where Saturday evening saw the final battle in the Race to the Chase for No Sponsorship. (Say that three times fast) Under the newly rewritten rules of the Daytona Beach Convention, the first twenty-six battles, including the one we watched on Saturday are merely a method of deciding upon the worthiness of the Army of Ten that will eventually provide a victor in the overall war. If that sounds as clear as black strap molasses to you, welcome to my world, but someone, somewhere, thinks it’s a great way to run a war.
Once again, this was a battle under the stars rather than under the sun, so 107,000 spectators were spared the use of Coppertone, replacing it instead with DEET. The festivities commenced with Ronan Tynan, a fine Irish tenor, intoning a stirring rendition of God Bless America, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Secretary of State Donald Rum Runner and yes, my friends, he did use the words, “Under God.” The Star-Spangled Banner was weakly offered by Kylie Dean, making me wish they had opted for the gentleman in uniform that performed it so beautifully before the truck race on Thursday evening. Throughout the patriotic celebration, offered in remembrance of the tragedy that occurred on September 11, three years prior, the fans rocked the grandstands with the now familiar chant, “USA…USA…USA.”
When it was time for our Knights in shining sheet metal to march into battle, it was Friday Ryan leading the charge and on his right flank was Mark the Munchkin. Before the green flag ever waved, Hmiel on Wheels managed to drive smack into the rear deck of Casey Merely, lifting the car right off the ground. When questioned later about the incident, Hmiel said simply, “Hey, it had a Target on it.” Once the march was underway, the first lap went to Flyin’ Ryan but lap two was led by Jeffy’s Mini-me. Mark the Munchkin, always the strategic soldier, quietly settled back to a comfortable position on the battlefield and waited for things to unfold.
It didn’t take long for them to start unfolding, when on lap 8, Toad Bodine put Arnold the Green Acres pig into the wall and retired to the lounge to collect his weekly stipend for starting his engine. That brought out the first yellow of the evening, but only a few, including the Big Brown Truck, took advantage of the break to grab a cold one. The restart at lap 12 showed Mini-me still leading over Flyin’ Ryan, Munchkin, Sir Jeffrey of Childress, Jeremy Mayfail, Flameboy and the Cheerios Bowl.
Only two laps later, Kirk Fillerdine gave Cow Patty a light tap, sending the toilet paper car into doughnuts, which cost him a lap to the leaders. They got back to circling at lap 18, and we watched as the Car with the Flames began mowing down the competition one by one, finally assuming command of the battle at lap 38. Flameboy then began lapping the slower soldiers at lap 45.
At lap 52, Sir Jeffrey of Childress made a doughnut of his own, bringing out the third caution of the evening and giving everyone a chance for a Bud break. Everyone, that is, but Mike Wall Ace, who opted for position on the battlefield. Those who did come to the bar ordered up varying amounts of tires with their beer, ranging anywhere from none to four. The One LAP UP (One Lucky Arse PUP) was awarded to the Zewo Hewo.
On the restart at lap 59, the pylon showed Wall Ace leading Mayfail, Flyin’ Ryan and the Car with the Flames, with Little Hammy Jr. in front of all of them in an attempt to get back into the battle. Things remained quiet for a bit, as they continued to turn short circles on the tiny battlefield, allowing us to watch a hard-fought battle for the lead between Wall Ace and Mayfail. The former had it and the latter wanted it but couldn’t get the job done until lap 100. Now, this reporter has at times been a bit critical of that #09 Finchmobile, but it was certainly no field filler on Saturday night, thereby proving my theory that ol’ James can build a good car when he wants to.
For all of his fighting to gain the lead, Mayfail only kept it for 15 laps before the Busch League Kid took it away from him. Wall Ace, having lost the lead, decided that he really did want that Bud and some tires after all and stopped by the bar for refreshments. It was at about this point that I noticed that Can’t Cope and Kirk Fillerdine has retired to the lounge to keep Toad company. At the point, it was Busch League leading Mayfail, Flyin’ Ryan, Matt the Brat and Mini-me and there were 25 combatants still on the lead lap.
At lap 142, we saw NASCAR’s equivalent of a competition caution when the yellow flag waved for debris on the racetrack, even though Arnold the Green Acres pig wasn’t out there. Someone said something about a screwdriver, but unless he was talking about the kind you get at the bar, no one saw it. Everyone gratefully took advantage of the flag to enjoy a little Miller Time and the One LAP UP went to Jamie McCutey, who had lost his lap just before the caution waved.
They were back to turning circles at lap 147 and 10 laps later the yellow was waving again, this time for some mysterious substance that might be causing the competitors to slide dangerously near the SAFER barriers. The janitors swept up the marbles, but hardly anyone stopped for another beer so soon (After all, they were driving) and the One LAP UP went to the Silver Bullet.
They marched back into battle at lap 164, but at lap 170, David Greenhorn, a rare fighter in the Cup battles these days, got rude with Long Gaughan, turning the lad in front of several cars, all of which managed to hit each other. Wounded in the fray were Gaughan, Scotch ‘n Soda Wimmer, Greg Baffled and Rickety Rudd, with others incurring minimal flesh wounds. A few of the boys in the back room hit the bar with the rolling wounded and the One LAP UP was awarded to Sir Jeffrey of Childress.
They began to fight in earnest on lap 175, with the Big Brown Truck taking aim on the Target car in an effort to supplant Casey Merely for the One LAP UP position. Only four laps later, Jimmy who never forgets entered into the same skirmish, hitting the Target and turning the car in front of the oncoming cavalry. The big loser in all of that was Jeffy’s Mini-me, whose mount was severely damaged, not to mention being stuck in the mud.
The initial reaction of Field Marshall Helton was to declare Sir Jimmy of McClure a Knight unfit for battle, but upon further review, he softened his position, explaining that it was entirely Casey’s fault for having a dang Target on his car to begin with. Most of the gang opted to take that opportunity, caution number 7, to grab a cold Coors Lite and some tires. The One LAP UP went to the lucky dog in the Big Brown Truck.
They went back to turning circles at lap 192, with Mayfail leading the Busch League Kid, Flyin’ Ryan, the Blue Deuce and Mutt Kenseth. That only lasted for three laps before the Zewo Hewo netted the wall and retired to spend the rest of the evening in the lounge. Only a handful of the warriors came to the bar on the eighth beer break, with most of those being the rolling wounded. The One LAP UP that time went to Little Hammy Jr.
It was back to the war at lap 202, only to see the yellow rag wave again at lap 206, when the Bud Stud smacked Hurrikahne, sending him around and ever so lightly into the inside wall. Once again, only a few of the boys from the back room chose to grab refreshments and the One LAP UP was awarded to Mike Wall Ace.
At long last, they managed to run some laps at speed, starting with lap 212, and talk began to center around who might be in the elite Army of Ten at the end of the day. Then, at about lap 265, a strange thing happened. Matt the Brat took the lead when Mayfail came to the bar for what turned out to be a green flag Bud break. He was followed in a few laps by Mutt, who stopped to enjoy a cold one but took a wrench back into battle with him, forcing Field Marshall Helton to invite him back for another bottle of Bud. As the laps ran on, more of the leaders chose to make a stop at the bar, but my friends, think back to all of those yellow flags where they had a chance to stop and passed it up. Playing for track position will sometimes come back to bite you.
Then, as invariably happens during green flag breaks, the final yellow flag of the day flew when on lap 291, the Big Brown Truck ran over Jimmy who never forgets, sending him around and wounding his mount. Adding insult to injury, the Field Marshall declared that Jimmy had to come back to the bar a second time for passing soldiers while the yellow flag was displayed. (That’s against the rules of the Convention)
Traffic in the bar was a bit sketchy, as some had already been there while others were still thirsty. Texas Terry was the last lucky recipient of the One LAP UP award. The restart order looked a bit weird, owing to the green flag breaks, so at lap 300, the pylon read, Busch League Kid, Mike Blister, the Bud Stud, Mayfail, the Pfizer Riser and the Car with the Flames. That’s what it said on the pylon, but on the battlefield, there was a host of warriors in front of those leaders, having been placed at the dreaded “Tail end of the lead lap” by choosing to forgo that last beer.
With only 100 short laps to go, we settled in to watch a great battle at the front of the pack, with the lead swapping hands several times between Busch League, Bud Stud and Mayfail. With all of the talk at the track about those final ten warriors and their upcoming battles, I felt sorry for some of those who would not receive promotions and would be essentially left out of future combat. By lap 350, we began to hear that the Busch League Kid, then in the lead, could not make it to the checkers without another beer and that others might be in the same position.
With twenty laps to go, Mutt brought the DeWalt Parts Cart to the bar for a quick draft beer and a splash of Sunoco. When he stalled and couldn’t get off the bar stool for some time, we knew that he’d run dry on both counts. At lap 392, Busch League, as predicted, had to make a swing through the bar as well. When the checkered flag fell, the final pylon showed Mayfail the winner over the Bud Stud, the Car with the Flames, Mike Blister, Mark the Munchkin, Prince Edwards of Roush, Mike Wall Ace, Greg Baffled, Jamie McCutey and the Blue Deuce.
Mayfail treated the fans to at least a baker’s dozen of doughnuts before heading to Victory Lane, where he exited the car to fall backwards into the waiting mosh pit. His exact words were, “Can’t believe it!” He cheerfully thanked everyone he’d ever met and shared hugs with everyone he could reach. On that day, with all the chips on the line, Jeremy had not failed; he would be in that elite Army of Ten.
Those earning the right to carry their banners into the final war were, The Car with the Flames, Jeffy’s Mini-me, the Bud Stud, Stewpot, Mutt Kenseth, the Candy Man, the Busch League Kid, the Pfizer Riser, Jeremy Mayfail and Flyin’ Ryan.
Those qualifying only for the “Close but no cigar” award include Jamie McCutey, Hurrikahne, Bobby the Bounty Hunter, the Big Brown Truck and Kevin Havoc. It’s not going to seem the same without those soldiers near the front in the upcoming battles, but the Convention rules state that they are no longer eligible to quest for the Holy Grail. Who makes these rules anyway?
That’s exactly the way it was in Richmond on Saturday night. Would I lie to you?
Well, Chase aside, comparing the decade-old race described in the article with the one we suffered through this past weekend, one burning question comes immediately to the fore. "What the Hell happened?"
It's time now for our Classic Country Closeout, and today I’ve chosen an album by one of my all-time favorites… please enjoy these beautiful offerings from John Denver.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!