Remembering the Very First Truck Race at Eldora
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and of course a cordial “Hi Y’all” to our assigned reader of all things that concern NASCAR on this very warm summer day in Georgia. I must confess, until I started reading through this piece, I’d truly forgotten what a great race that was and how it moved me. Written as “A Voice for the Fans”, the continuation of the title read, “When Awesome Isn’t Awesome Enough.” The year was 2013, and Jim Fitzgerald and I had been doing our tiny fledgling website together only since April. The Host we had back them just looked impossible to me, who could do all manner of things in Word Press, but not there. They shall remain nameless out of the kindness of my heart.
What follows is one of my earliest columns done for Race Fans Forever, and I wish I could feel exactly this way about every race I watch. Come along with me and we can remember together. I think you’ll agree.
Good day gentle readers. A warm welcome is bid to all of you and to our assigned reader for the day, whomever he or she might be. This humble missive should have been written in the wee hours of Thursday morning and ready to see sunlight only hours after the checkers flew at Eldora. Alas, we of some age must heed the call of Morpheus to join him in the land of slumber at some point. That, and my brain tends to shut down like a factory at 5:00 on Friday when I'm tired, and it was midnight.
Because in my world a Friday column is written and in the hands of the editor by the close of business hours on Wednesday, I had no way of including in this week's regular edition the Mudsummer Classic held at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday night. #MudsummerClassic for the many thousands of Twitter tweeters that watched the race with me. I found a way. It's called write another one.
[Editor’s Note: The truck race is no longer called the Mudsummer Classic. It seems that Major League Baseball thought that was too close to their Midsummer Classic and NASCAR and Tony Stewart were forced to change the name. Picky! Picky! I don’t know a single soul that can’t tell a race car from a baseball, but as Mike Helton would say, “It is what it is.]
Long before the sun set over Eldora on Wednesday, racing was already underway, with qualifying runs beginning at 5:00PM here on the right coast. Those didn't make it to the TV in your living room, but were available via the Live Leaderboard at nascar.com and provided the background music for my Chinese style evening repast. (Fancy word for "supper" don't ya know)
At 7:00 came the heat races that serve to further set the starting order for what would be called the "A Main" at many events. Though these were said to be available via the Live Leaderboard as well, I soon abandoned that little toy, as it was running well ahead of the obviously delayed TV broadcast. **Note to nascar.com… You might want to rethink that practice. Either stay with the TV or don't even bother. No one, on Wednesday night, wanted to miss a thing happening on track and for sure and certain didn't want to know the outcome before having seen it. In short, don't tell us how the movie ends.
Forgive me gentle readers if this column contains more of the first-person singular pronouns than usually found here. I try mightily to keep me, myself and I out of my writings, but the only observations I have of the racing at Eldora on Wednesday night are my own, so please indulge me. As noted, I spent the evening with a vast and diverse cross-section of America and indeed, the world, known as Twitter. Being somewhat of a cross-section my own self, representing the past as a living part of it and the present as a functioning septuagenarian in a young folks world, put simply… I had a blast!
In the short hours it took to run what many will call the best race ever, I was heartened, enlightened and quite humbled. Forget trying to teach the kids about the sport's history. Instead, show it to them! And that's exactly what was done Wednesday night. Yes, a lot of you younger fans seem to enjoy tales of yore such as the ones I write from time to time, but last night you saw with your own eyes and felt with your own emotions much of what made my generation fall in love with the new upstart sport of stock car racing. It's just plain fun!
I don't believe I've ever seen or heard the word "Awesome" used so many times by so many people in one place at one time. It was… well… awesome! To those that asked questions of me or sought explanations of terms and rules unfamiliar to many, there was no need to thank me. I'm always happy to oblige if it's within my scope of knowledge to share an answer. On Wednesday night, I was just thrilled that in most cases, I had that answer. I grew up learning it.
Yesterday, well before the racing began, I read a discussion between race fans as to whether these young whippersnappers could possibly perform a power slide on dirt as well as the good ol' boys of another era. My answer, both then and now is a resounding "Hell yes!" Of course, when a couple of those young whippersnappers turned out to be 58-year old Ken Schrader and 61-year old Norm Benning, I was screaming for them as loudly as anyone else in the crowd. How about that Norm, riding the wall… quite literally… while taking hit after hit, but hanging on in the heat race to transfer to the Main Event. Way to go Norm, you young whippersnapper you!
In the end though, after three separate segments totaling 150 miles, it was youth that triumphed over experience, as 23-year old Austin Dillon, a very practiced dirt racer in his own right, took the checkers despite the hard challenge repeatedly offered by soon-to-be 21-year old Kyle Larson, to the hoots, hollers and obvious approval of the sell-out crowd at Eldora. I think most everyone there was in agreement with my feeling that it didn't matter so much who won the race, but that the race was held and it was a smashing, barn-burning, Katie-bar-the-door success!
Everyone with an interest in racing that has access to a column, blog, forum or other means of putting words on this thing we call the Internet has already done so, so why am I adding my humble voice to the mix? Because through this column I represent the voices of a multitude of fans and they want to be heard along with everyone else. It's hard to issue individual thanks, as there are so many contributors to that wonderful event whose names I don't even know. If some are omitted, please know that they belonged here.
Tony Stewart, Roger Slack and the entire staff at Eldora Speedway, both hired and volunteer, who worked before, during and after the historic gala event… Thank you, from the bottoms of our race-loving hearts. The show was awesome, (There's that word again) from the Fan Salute to the fireworks at the end.
Mike Helton… I know you said you were only there as a fan, but I didn't believe that for one minute. I know that you, and your love of racing, had a definite hand in making the race at Eldora happen, and speaking for many, many fans that had such a wonderful, or might I say awesome, time… Thank you Sir.
To all at NASCAR and the Camping World Truck series in particular, many thanks from the fans to each and every one of you that contributed in any way to making the Mudsummer Classic the smashing success it was.
Thanks to the teams, and drivers… young and old… who put so much time and effort into becoming a part of the history being made at Eldora Speedway. Likewise, thanks to the fans… young and old… that came out in droves, both to the track and to their TVs, to watch that history being written and to add to it words of their own… the most commonly heard of which was certainly, "Awesome!"
I can't think of better words with which to close this accolade than with the words of my closing tweet last night, indicating the perfect end to a perfect evening. "Close it out with fireworks!!!! PERFECT! OK God, I'm ready now. I've seen Heaven and I approve!"
Just a quick note to Brent Dewar, Steve O’Donnell, Mike Helton and anyone else that cares… this is what the fans want, races that leave them breathless but oh, so happy. Not wrecks or bunched up cars artificially restricted. Honest, flat-out pedal to the metal racing! It’s truly awesome!
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout and what could be more appropriate than a full album of old Country Truckin’ songs?
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling.
It looks so good on you!